Masi’s paatra

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I’ve been extremely quiet for over a month, as I was away on holiday in India.

It was the trip of a lifetime, where I had the opportunity to explore the region of Gujarat, which is the Western state and where my family are from. But funnily enough, it’s not a place many foreigners visit – since it’s so near to the more popular holiday destinations like Rajasthan and New Delhi. But I can’t emphasise just how beautiful and diverse this region is.

Gujarat is also home to some of the most beautiful vegetarian dishes around; from savoury cake, dhokla, to the almighty vegetarian thali. I will be sure to share more about the dishes I had in future blog posts as well as dishes I learnt to make. Which brings me to this post…

I’d like to share a special recipe for paatra, which is a savoury (colacasia) leaf with a filling that can range from tamarind to jaggery,  and is steamed/fried then eaten as a snack. I learnt this from my Masi (Aunt from my Mum’s side) who is a fantastic cook and I was extremely lucky to be able to simply walk down the road to her house when I was in the village. This is just the start of quite a few dishes I learnt to make with her. 🙂

So you’ll need the list of ingredients below (though using the spices by eye is always best in my opinion!):

Mix for the paatra filling

1 cup gram (chickpea) flour

1tbsp chapatti flour

1/2tsp crushed ginger, garlic, green chilli

1/2tsp sugar (preferably brown)

2tsp turmeric, garam masala and cumin

pinch of asafoetida

salt

1tbsp yogurt

3tsp oil

tamarind water (mix concentrate with water till runny)

paatra leaves

Tempering:

oil

1/2tsp mustard seeds and cumin seeds plus a pinch of asafoetida

Mix all the ingredients for the paatra filling and make into a paste and ensure it has a thick consistency – see images above for reference.

Place your paatra leaves so their back is facing up with the stems up, and liberally spread some of the mix onto the leaves – using your fingers so you can control the amount of paste and not tear the leaves. You can use two paatra leaves (as I have in the 1st image) with one end facing the top and the other end facing the bottom; to make it slightly bigger and a more rounded shape. Fold the paatra leaves from the sides in, to make the ends meet in the middle (see the 2nd pic for reference). Then from the bottom up, roll the paatra and place aside.

From here, you can steam the paatra till it’s softened and cooked, make them into slices and then heat some oil, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida till they pop and place the paatra slices in and gently fry, till browned.

Masi, as you can see from the pics, goes straight into frying… It’s just as tasty though! You can then garnish them with coconut / coriander.

And that’s it. It’s a simple recipe that can be rustled up and served cold with chutneys or like me, in a wrap or chapatti with ketchup! I hope you get to try this and tell me what you think.

Thanks Masi for the cooking lesson. 🙂

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The Spice Tailor

I recently received a free kit from The Spice Tailor (they were giving them away through online food shops) – who supply a range of products from Indian sauces, chutnis (spelt the Indian way), naans to daals. These products are also made with recipes that are developed by British Indian food writer and TV chef, Anjum Anand.

As I have and love using Anjum’s ‘Indian Food Made Easy’ and ‘I Love Curry’ cookbooks – since they supply very easy to follow guides on making fresh, tasty and light Indian meals – I had a feeling this would be one of the only ‘ready to use’ Indian products that actually tastes like home cooking. So I knew I needed to have a go, and you know what? I like what I discovered…

I was sent the Punjabi tomato curry pack and my first impression of the product was the sweet packaging with a simple approach. Everything is laid out neatly (always a plus for me!) along with: a list of the contents in the package, a step by step process on using them, facts about the product, along with a little recipe book that gives ideas on different dishes you can use the sauce for.

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This info said that the sauce is very versatile and can have the addition of meat, vegetables or paneer. I happened to have paneer in the fridge so that’s what I went for.

See below the process…

 

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Tempering stage by adding the whole spices into the oil

 

paneer

Adding in paneer till lightly browned. I added onions too but it didn’t need it, I just needed to use some up!

 

paneer-and-peas

Add the base sauce then main sauce and mix it through. I added some peas too.

And that’s pretty much it! There’s a handy section in the information, where it tells you how to customise the dish – based on what you’ll use in the sauce to how you can garnish it. So it’s very thorough but manages to add a bit of inspiration too.

The sauce was very tasty and the whole process was really straightforward. It’s almost boring compared to normal cooking really, mainly because I find cooking exciting and energising – but I mean this in a good way because it takes out a lot of work for you and that’s what these sauces are all about.

So in all honesty, I’d only use this product as a go to if I literally needed something quick and easy, based on the circumstance at the time. Although it is one of those ‘throw it all in and you have Indian food within minutes’, it’s very far away from the jarred sauces you get (I cringe at the thought of them!) but of course real home made food will always have it’s own distinct flavour. But I wouldn’t mind stocking up on a few of these and keeping them for those days when you do not feel like cooking, or if you happen to have some people coming over but no time to prepare anything long winded…

Have you used them yourself below? Get in touch and give me some recommendations as I’d love to try out more!

 

 

 

Fresh take on Biriyani

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Meera Sodha’s new cookbook, Fresh India, has become a prized possession in my kitchen.

This book is a real go to for any vegetarian that loves Indian food. Or if you’re like me, not a vegetarian but loves to find new ways of eating vegetables, it has more than plenty to offer. It’s also full of  handy tips, beautiful illustrations and recipes for vibrant dishes.

Meera is from Lincolnshire and being so close to my home town, Leicester, I love that she had so many similar experiences with family and food. But the difference is, I grew up in one of the main parts of the UK with a huge Indian community – where we had access to all kinds of Indian vegetables and all the spices and cooking materials needed in any Indian kitchen, right on our doorstep. So much so, that Indian families across the UK do a lot of their shopping in Leicester.

But for Meera, her family made the most of seasonal English vegetables, and has created some fascinating dishes with them. I’ve already made quite a few things from the book and am full of excitement each time, because they’re authentically made with fresh spices and techniques but, some of them are completely different to anything I grew up eating.

A few examples would be dishes like: leek, pea and mint samosas, rainbow chard saag aloo and this dish which I’d like to share in today’s blog post; Grand Vegetable Biriyani – which is made with sweet potatoes, beetroot and paneer.

I love love love biriyani! My Mum makes vegetable biriyani all the time and this usually has peas, carrots and cauliflower in it. So when I saw that Meera’s biriyani included my favourite root veg and my most loved ingredient, paneer, I had to make it.

In the recipe it states to use puff pastry as the lid for the biriyani to cook under, but I did the good ol’ lid on top of a strong casserole dish and placed chapati dough around the edges to carefully seal it. See the recipe below for this incredible dish that can be served just on its own…

Serves 6 as a main course

400g basmati rice

400g sweet potatoes

400g raw beetroot

500g ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained

225g hard paneer, cut into 2cm cubes

rapeseed oil

salt

1 1/4 tsp chilli powder

1 1/4 rsp ground cumin

2 tsp garam masala

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 large onions, finely sliced

(for the puff pastry lid): 1 egg, 300g ready-rolled puff pastry, 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 1 tbsp nigella seeds

(for the chapatti dough to seal the edges of a lid): a small cup of chapatti flour, hot water

For the coconut and coriander sauce:

1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk

100g fresh coriander

6 cloves garlic

1 green finger chilli

3cm ginger, peeled

3/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp lemon juice

 

Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6 and line 3 baking trays with foil. Wash the rice in a few changes of cold water, then leave to soak.

Next, wash the sweet potatoes and beetroot (no need to peel), cut into wedges, then throw on the separate trays. On the final tray, add the tomatoes,then the chickpeas and paneer.

Put 6tbsp of oil into a small bowl, with 1 1/3 tsp salt, the chilli powder, cumin, garam masala and lemon juice. Mix well and spoon over the vegetables but adding more to the paneer tray. Coat everything properly then place in the oven – with the paneer on the top shelf – and bake for 40mins, checking and stirring after 20mins.

Place 3tbsp oil into your casserole dish over medium heat, when hot, add the onions and cook till browned and caramelise. Take out and place aside. When the onions are cooking, stick all the coconut and coriander sauce bits in a blender and blitz till smooth. Pour in a frying pan, place over medium heat and cook for 10mins. Check the salt and take off the heat.

Drain the rice, place in a saucepan (or rice cooker) and cover with plenty of cold water and bring to boil. Lower the heat to a fast simmer and cook for 10mins or till the rice is tender. Drain well, place aside with a tea towel on top.

If using the puff pastry lid: beat the egg with a bit of salt and cut a square to fit over the biriyani dish. Or make the chapatti dough and make into a long snake like shape.

Layer the biriyani: the aim is to end with the caramelised onions on top. So start with half of the paneer mix at the bottom of the biriyani dish, follow with a quarter of the rice, quarter of the onions, then add half of the coconut sauce, half of the beetroot and sweet potatoes, then further quarter of the rice and onions. Repeat.

For the puff pastry lid: place the square of pastry to fit over the casserole dish and working quickly, place on top of the dish and seal it tightly on the edges. Brush the top liberally with the egg and sprinkle with the seeds.

For the chapatti dough: place a lid on the biriyani, and seal the edges with the dough.

Place in the over for 25mins. Take out and cut away the pastry or dough and serve big spoonfuls so everyone gets a layer of each part of the dish. Serve with raita or salad.

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You won’t be disappointed with this dish, or this book if you haven’t already bought it…

Spiced and tangy chickpea stew

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I’m a huge fan of batch cooking and since I have a long commute to work during the weekdays (an hour each way), batch cooking is an essential part of my weekend routine.

Today, I want to share this chickpea stew – taken from the fabulous book, and my go to at the moment, Maunika Gowardhan’s Indian Kitchen – with a few added ingredients from me.

Like all stew dishes, this is very easy to prepare – by throwing in a bunch of ingredients and allowing it to do its thing – with minimum supervision. It’s also perfect for a wonderfully spiced, yet slightly tangy and wholesome dish that can be turned into many different meals.

The fact that it has protein from the chickpeas but is light, yet filling, I’ve made it more than a few times to pop into containers and straight into the freezer, taking one out here and there to have after work with very little effort to put together something quickly and tastes fantastic.

See the recipe for this chickpea stew below, where the additional ingredients I added have (optional) stated next to them.

Ingredients

500g canned chickpeas, drained

2tbsp vegetable oil

1 ½ tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds (optional)

¼ tsp asafoetida

1 onion (about 100g), finely chopped

8-10 fresh curry leaves (I used dried)

200g tomatoes, finely chopped (I used tinned)

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or mild paprika

1 tsp ground coriander (optional)

1 tsp ground cumin (optional)

2 tsp tamarind paste

2 tsp sugar

½ tsp garam masala

Grounded sesame seeds (optional)

Lemon juice to taste

Salt to taste

Chopped fresh coriander

 

Method

Put the chickpeas in a large pan with enough water to cover and boil over a low heat for 20 minutes, or till soft when pressed between your fingers.

Place a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the mustard and (if using) cumin seeds, asafoetida and allow the seeds to splutter. Add the onion and fry for about 7 minutes till softened, then lower the heat and add the curry leaves, frying for 20 seconds. Add the tomatoes, cooking and stirring for 2-3 minutes.

When the chickpeas are ready, drain them but reserve 300ml of the cooking liquid. Add the chickpeas to the onion mix, then stir in the ground spices (except the garam masala), tamarind and sugar.

Stir well then add the chickpeas and allow the raw spices to cook out. Add the reserved cooking liquid and mix well. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, ensuring that the sauce is thick and gravy like. Add the grounded sesame seeds (if using), to make the sauce thicker, or mash some chickpeas with the back of a spoon to create the thick gravy.

Turn off the heat and the garam masala, lemon juice and salt to taste. Garnish with coriander.

See below some ideas on what to serve the stew with…

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Served with dhal, rice, chapatti and poppadum for a full blown Indian meal

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As Maunika suggests in the book, served with potato cakes (which you can have spices and coriander in) and yogurt, with my addition of nigella seeds

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When there’s only a bit left – the pauper’s way – with some hearty sliced bread and butter 🙂

I can’t rant on enough about this dish, so I’d love for you to give it a go and tell me what you think – especially if you do add the additional ingredients that I used to make it a bit more to my taste. 🙂

Stop buying granola – just make it yourself…

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I love breakfast and try to not skip it in the weekdays… and the way I do this, is by taking it with me to work so I can settle down (after a good 20mins walk) at my desk with a hot drink, something to eat and get energised for the day. It’s cheaper than grabbing something on the way, unless it’s for a Friday treat (!), but this granola is great because it’s versatile – working well with both yogurt or milk. It’s also easy to put together and it tastes delicious – plus it gives you opportunities to change it around a bit depending on what mood you’re in or have lying around the house!

Since seeing Nigella Lawson’s ‘Andy’s Fairfield Granola’ (from the book, Feast) and Sophie Dahl’s ‘Tawny Granola’ (from the book, Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights), I’ve basically adapted both of these recipes to suit what I fancy and have lying around the house – mostly different seeds and dried fruits to spices.

Nigella’s version is probably more indulgent with the use of 3 kinds of sweetness plus sunflower oil, then Sophie’s version is lighter with the use of vanilla extract and desiccated coconut instead of sugar… But I like to have something in between – where it’s healthy but still indulgent…

Now there are no measurements with this – I don’t see the point! Just mix together what you have of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients till it lightly coats the dry mix. See below.

Ingredients:

Porridge oats – I tend to stick in what’s likely to be a couple of cups full – giving you a vision there 🙂

Seeds: (in this image) pumpkin seeds, linseeds – a good handful each

Dried coconut flakes – only a small handful for texture

Ground ginger and cinnamon – a good sprinkling of each, but more of the cinnamon

Dried cranberries – again, a good handful as I love them!

Coconut oil – a good dollop

Honey – as much as needed to help combine

Method:

Simply mix all of the dry ingredients, except for the dried cranberries, and dollop some coconut oil and honey over it. Mix together till combined but if it’s too dry, add a bit more coconut oil and honey.

Place this mix on a baking tray and place in a preheated oven on 180c and roast for about 20 minutes – till golden brown, stirring it every 5 minutes or so.

Take out the oven and add the dried cranberries, then let it cool down. Tub it up, take it to work or take bits of it each day for a mix of breakfasts or even for your mid morning and afternoon snack!

Once you do this yourself and see how easy it is, you’ll get used to playing around with it and never bother buying ready made again!

Spices and herbs…

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The dish I’m going to share today is a middle eastern inspired koftas with spiced tomatoes, yogurt, topped with pine nuts and coriander.

But first, I need to express just how much spices and herbs play a part in my cooking and how I’ve come to find that I could not live without them… The fact that I cook at home a lot (I get twitchy if I haven’t cooked for more than a few days..!) gives me the opportunity to explore in the kitchen; whether if it’s using recipes from books / the ones my parents have given me, or needing something quick and easy that I’ll happily throw anything I have together.

Spices and herbs, for any cook, is a saviour and I’m coming to the point in wanting to learn more about how it works, why it works and even the benefits of them – since the best thing about these ingredients, is that they’re fresh and completely natural! It must’ve been astounding throughout history for those who kept discovering them… Can you imagine? Stumbling upon that cardamom when simply opening the cask and finding these tiny seeds that taste wondrous or that mustard seed, which is one of the most astounding spices for having such flavour and being SO teeny!

So with that thought, I hope to find some new discoveries and learning more to bring to this blog down the line… But for now, find below my take on this koftas in spiced tomatoes, yogurt and pine nuts with coriander.

1Serves 4-6

750g minced lamb

salt and pepper

1 medium onion, chopped finely

1tp minced garlic

1tsp garam masala

bunch of flat leaf parsley/coriander, finely chopped

1tsp and an extra pinch sumac

500g natural yogurt

2tbsp butter or extra virgin olive oil

2-3tbps pine nuts

For the tomato sauce:

2tbsps extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4tsp crushed dried red chilli

750g tomatoes, peeled and chopped

salt and pepper

1-2tsps sugar

Make the tomatoes first by heating the oil, frying the onion till soft, add the garlic, chilli and stir. Place in the tomatoes, season with salt, pepper and sugar, then simmer on medium heat for 10mins.

For the koftas, season the mince and add the onions, garlic, garam masala and parsley then work into it with your hands. Create the kofta shapes, place on a baking sheet and cook under a grill on high for 10mins, or till cooked and a gorgeous colour on the outside.

Heat the butter or oil and cook the pine nuts till golden and add the sumac. When the butter sizzles, sprinkle over the yogurt.

Arrange your dish with the tomatoes, yogurt, koftas, then more pine nuts and sprinkle over the pinch of sumac and parsley/coriander. Enjoy with any kind of bread or as it is…!

Fish biryani

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I’m not sure how often Indian families make biryanis, but I made one for the first time since moving to Bristol nearly a year ago… Wow, sounds like absolutely ages when I say it!

But since moving, I’ve had the freedom to use spices however I like, without either of my parents saying, ‘No no, it’s not meant to taste like that!’ I love it when they say that sometimes though, because they’re such good cooks and really love their food. But exploring and discovering new dishes as much as possible is really important to me. Although, I do stick with their methods when cooking our home dishes, because those meals need to taste like home… but with Indian food being SO massively diverse that I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around everything Indian cuisine has to offer, I need to keep cooking and trying out new things!

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And this was a new discovery. Admittedly using a recipe from my ‘Indian Bible’ at the moment – ‘India Cookbook’ by Pushpesh Pant – it’s never occurred to me to place fish in a biryani dish. Yes there’s kedgeree with rice and fish combined, which I make here and there, but biryani, it’s usually chicken or vegetables in the versions back home!

But let me tell you, a simple white fish (I used cod here) with some rice and a few spices, is just something to dwell over when it’s finished, because it was soooo tasty. Fairly healthy too as I didn’t add a lot of ghee into it, but there are fried onions making it rich and less healthy… Oh well. There was also a bit of yogurt used to thicken the sauce and overall, it’s a great summery dish with the tang of tomatoes and freshness of coriander on top. I’ll definitely make this one again.

So, here’s the recipe from the book, but with some adjustments from me too. 🙂

Serves 5-6

5o0g firm white fish, cut into chunks

4tsp ground turmeric

250ml lime juice

125g ghee – I used less than this throughout, just use your eye if you want to do the same

1kg basmati rice, rinsed and drained

2tbsp raisins (I didn’t use any this time)

2tbsp cashew nuts

3 onions sliced (I used fried onions instead)

2tsp chilli powder

1tsp ground coriander

2 cinnamon sticks, 1inch long

4-6 cloves

2 tomatoes, chopped

250ml plain yogurt, whisked

Salt

Put the fish in a large shallow dish and rub on 2tsp turmeric and the lime juice, then cover and set aside in the fridge for 45mins.

Heat 1tbsp of ghee in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium heat and add the rice, fry for about 10mins, then season with salt and add 1tsp turmeric and 1litre hot water. Stir gently and bring to boil, reduce the heat and cover to cook for 15mins, or until the water is absorbed.

Heat 4tbsps ghee in another frying pan and add the raisins and cashew nuts for 1min – (this is where I used toasted cashew nuts and no raisins, so no need for this much ghee…). Remove and add the onions and cook for 5-7mins until golden brown – (this is where I used ready to use fried onions).

Reduce the heat and add the chilli powder, coriander, remaining turmeric, 4tsp water and the whole spices and fry for about 2mins, stirring constantly. Add the fish and season with salt, then lightly fry for about 5mins. Pour in 250ml water, bring to boil and add the tomatoes.

Reduce the heat to low, add the yogurt and simmer for about 5mins to thicken the sauce. Brush a heavy-based pan (the one with the rice but remove the rice first when it’s cooked) with a little ghee and spread a layer of fish over the base, then add a layer of rice and then a layer of raisins and cashew nuts. Repeat the process, until all the fish and rice is used up, ending with the raisins and cashew nuts on top. Cover the pan and place on a griddle and cook over very low heat for about 5mins. Alternatively, cook over very low heat.