When most of us think of Indian food, terms such as "curry", "hot" and "chilli" come to mind. But not all of India's spiced dishes are curries and neither are they all hot. Different areas have their own specific mix of flavours, condiments, meats and accompaniments. North-western Indian cuisine, for example, favours wheat-flour chapatis rather than rice with main dishes. Small pieces of the flat bread are broken off and wrapped around a portion of curry, then eaten by hand.
Curry powder is a mixture of coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, pepper, turmeric, fenugreek and curry leaves. Sometimes these spices are added individually to meat and vegetable dishes.
Although most Kiwi cooks tend to use a commercial mix, there is nothing like making your own fresh combo. Take a tablespoon of each of the ingredients, roast in a pan until lightly coloured, then finely grind. For extra heat add ground ginger and/or cayenne pepper.
Despite their name, curry leaves are not hot. They are an attractive, green, aromatic leaf of a small tree belonging to the citrus family. They grow wild in many parts of Asia but are cultivated in New Zealand by suppliers of fresh herbs.
Curry leaves are used much like bay leaves in European cookery. Fry before adding to a dish or break up to impart more flavour. If fresh curry leaves are unavailable, get dry leaves from Asian food stores and some supermarkets.
Onion bhaji is a popular Indian street food and a yummy start to dinner or as a topping for various mains. Many Indians consider them comfort food.
Many recipes are rather doughy, so I like to lightly coat the onion rings in batter, take loose amounts and deep fry. Serve them with lemon wedges, yoghurt and chopped mint or chutney.
1 tbsp each: whole cumin, mustard, fennel and fenugreek seeds
5 tsp whole coriander seeds
3-4 dried chillies, optional
3-4 tbsp canola oil
3 large shallots, diced
1 tsp each: crushed garlic, grated root ginger
15 curry leaves
1.5kg boneless stewing beef, goat or lamb, cut into 2.5cm cubes
400g can diced tomatoes
Place the seeds and chillies (if using) in a heavy frying pan over a medium heat. Stir until slightly darker and aromatic. Pour on to a plate and cool. Grind finely with a pestle and mortar or in a small blender.
Pour the oil into a large, deep frying pan.
Add the shallots, garlic and ginger and pan-fry until softened.
Add the curry leaves and ground spices. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the meat and stir well so it is coated in the spices. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 3 minutes.
Cover tightly and simmer on low for 1 & 1/2 hours or until tender. Alternatively, cook in a 160C oven for about 2 hours.
If there is too much liquid, remove the lid and simmer until it is reduced enough to cling to the meat.
- Serves 6 to 8
2 large onions, very thinly sliced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp each: ground coriander, ground cumin, whole cumin seeds
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup self-raising flour
1/2-1 cup canola oil
Soak the onion rings in iced water for 5 minutes. Dry well with paper towels. Add to the eggs and mix well. Sprinkle in the spices and flour, and mix well.
Heat about 1/2 a cup of oil in a deep saucepan. Lift 1/4 cups of the mixture with tongs and fry in batches in the oil, until golden. Drain on paper towels. Top up the oil, if required. Keep them puffed up and loose rather than doughy and flat.
- Makes 8
SPICY FISH WITH ORANGE & CORIANDER
650g skinned and boned white fish
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2-3 tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup lime or lemon juice
1-2 tsp fish sauce
Salad: 2 oranges
1-2 chillies, seeded and diced, optional
1/4 cup coriander leaves
Cut the fish into 4cm portions. Combine the flour and spices. Dust the fish with the mixture.
Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Saute the fish for about 2 minutes each side or until cooked. Put in a shallow casserole. Combine the lime or lemon juice, fish sauce and sugar. Drizzle over the fish. Cover and chill.
Meanwhile, peel the oranges and cut between the veins to make segments. Just before serving, top the fish with the orange, chillies and coriander leaves.
- Serves 4 to 6
POTATOES IN SPINACH SAUCE
700g small boiling potatoes, peeled
1kg spinach, washed, trimmed and chopped
2 tbsp each: water,
1 medium onion, diced
1 large tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp grated root ginger
1/2 tsp garam masala
3/4 cup plain yoghurt
Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain and cut in half, if large.
Meanwhile, place the spinach in a large saucepan with the 2 tablespoons of water. Steam until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain in a sieve and squeeze out the water. Put in a processor and puree.
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Saute the onion over a medium heat, until tender. Add the tomato, garlic and ginger, and cook until the liquid evaporates.
Add the potatoes and spinach, and stir well. Slowly mix in the garam masala and yoghurt.
- Serves 6-8