Tales From Rivvy’s Kitchen – Curries and accompaniments
As promised, a post about curries. I had started writing this as one long, comprehensive post, but it was starting to get to encyclopaedic length and I realised it was too much. I’ve decided instead to break it down into parts, so this is part 1.
Part 1 will consist of a little introduction to the world of curry and a couple of super basic jar-based recipes for those of you new to this kind of cooking, to ease you in gently! I’ll also put a tandoori marinade recipe here because it’s the basis of a lot of other curry recipes.
When I was growing up, cooking was my favourite family activity. We would all gather in the kitchen and make curry together, sometimes spending upwards of four hours preparing and cooking dishes. It was quality family time, all the richer for having something to show at the end of it. My job was usually the rice, my older brother usually made the curry, my dad made the breads and my mum supervised the younger two doing the vegetable dishes and/or condiments.
The first thing I would say to someone just starting out on their curried odyssey is to have a good cookbook. There are only two cook books in the whole wide world that every single member of my family owns and one of them is this:
It’s the 1982 edition of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookbook, published by the BBC. Yes, you read that right. This cookbook is older than me. But it is arguably the best Indian cook book out there and if you can get a copy of it online (we purchased our last one on ebay), I would strongly recommend it. The ISBN is 0 563 16491 3 for the paperback. It’s good for a number of reasons. The introduction is almost 40 pages long and covers a wide range of things from explaining the different regional curries (helpful when you’re eating at an Indian restaurant), to giving a break down of the different spices and flavourings and the equipment you might need to make curry, as well as how to construct menus. Each recipe begins with an introductory note about the dish and each one has suggestions for what it should be served with. It’s my go-to cook book when I’m thinking about doing an Indian meal. All of that said, it’s generally accepted in my family that we usually double the spices she recommends (for example, if she says 4 cloves, use 6 – 8) and quarter the oil. That’s personal/family preference though. Don’t be afraid to experiment. My copy has dozens of annotations in it!
That said, I’ve discovered some amazing recipes online, as well as having sampled some great dishes at friends’ houses. I also went through a phase of cooking with ‘nana’, who was this really cool old Indian lady who didn’t speak any English and whose granddaughters filmed her cooking and put it up on YouTube. I haven’t watched them for a while though, so I can’t remember what they’re called, but she did the best flatbreads (recipe to follow).
I’d recommend you buy the best spices you can afford and in relatively small amounts. Although they don’t ever really go off, they do lose some of their flavour over time and some of them will go slightly bitter. It’s a good idea to buy a top of the range garam masala, if you can find a good one. I like the Fiddes Payne brand for the sole reason that it balances towards the sweeter end of the spectrum, with a hefty dose of cinnamon in there. It’s personal taste. Try a few different ones. If you can’t find what you like, you can make it. It’s just a blend of commonly available spices. Garam masala is important because you use it in marinades but it’s also added in to many curries at the last minute. It’s often used as a basic spice mix.
So, in summary, I’m hoping this series of posts will give you a broad taste of some traditional and some more contemporary curry dishes, including some jar recipes which are fairly simple to make if you just want something easy to start with.
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I’m going to start with the simplest of the simples – a Thai green curry, made with shop bought paste.
(Serves 2 – 3)
2 – 3 chicken breasts, diced
1 – 2 tsp Thai green curry paste, to taste
Handful of green/French beans, chopped into inch lengths
1 can coconut milk
salt and pepper to season
Fry the onion in a little oil until soft, approx 5 minutes. Add the chicken breasts and fry until sealed. Add the curry paste and stir for 30 seconds to a minute and then add the chopped beans and coconut milk. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Season to taste.
It really is that easy. Thai curry is a delicate flavour, although the green chillies can be fiery, so I’d recommend serving it with a delicate rice. Jasmine rice is lovely if you can find it, but otherwise I’d serve it with a plain boiled rice or a coconut rice, to compliment the coconut flavour in the curry. I’ll put a recipe for coconut rice in a later post.
This next recipe is a little more complicated but is astonishingly delicious. Considering its simplicity, it’s probably still my favourite curry because I love the rich, tart flavours of it.
4 chicken breasts, diced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp oil
2 – 4 tbsp madras paste (to taste)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Small tin/carton coconut cream
Coat the chicken with the lemon juice and garam masala, season with salt and set aside for a while to marinate.
In a large frying pan, heat the oil and fry the onions until softened.
Add chicken and fry for a few minutes until opaque.
Add madras paste and stir for a couple of minutes until chicken is coated.
Add tomatoes and coconut cream.
Cover and cook on low for approximately 20 minutes.
As I said – it’s a little more complicated than the previous recipe, but still very simple and extremely delicious. This recipe, in my humble opinion, is served best with a lemon rice, but it could also be served with a coconut rice. You can substitute the coconut cream for 50g dessicated coconut, but I don’t like the texture. It’s personal preference. You could half and half if you were feeling super adventurous. I usually forget to put my chicken on, so the most it marinates is about ten minutes while I prepare everything else, but you could do it an hour or two in advance. Don’t worry that madras paste comes in fairly large jars. It will store in the fridge for a long time because it’s oil based. I’m also working on a curried chicken and coconut soup recipe using the paste, so keep an eye for that coming soon!
So, we’ve gone through two very basic curries with minimal ingredients. I’m hoping that it’s becoming obvious that delicious homemade curries can be achieved very easily. I’m going to do a recipe for Tandoori marinade now. It’s an awful lot easier than people think it would be. I love to eat Tandoori foods. If you eat them plain, grilled, they’re incredibly low fat and packed to bursting with flavour. I don’t like to colour mine, but you can add a couple of drops of red and/or yellow food colouring if you want that bright restaurant tikka colour. This is a recipe to plan ahead with. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I like to use mine more than once. I’ll marinate chicken in it overnight and then when I take it out, I’ll chuck a couple of fish fillets in for the following day. I bet any microbiologists reading this are crying into their keyboards!! There’s nothing to stop you doing things of the same food group all at once though. For example, if you’ve got some fish fillets in there, throw in a couple of handfuls of King Prawns and have them grilled on skewers with cous cous or tabbouleh for dinner the following night.
You may think that tandoori fish is a weird combination, but that’s actually a uniquely European attitude. In Bangladesh particularly, the vast amount of meat consumed is seafood and they frequently tandoori it or spice it. If you’ve never tried a fish curry, find out if your local restaurant does one and try it. If they’re a good restaurant, you won’t be disappointed. They’re delicate but bursting with flavour. If I’m doing tandoori salmon fillets, they’re delicious with cucumber ribbons tossed with lemon and fresh mint or cous cous or some sort of salad. They’re also delicious with lemon new potatoes. I make a basic lemon and mustard vinaigrette, toss it over warm new potatoes and sprinkle them with cress and sliced avocado. Perfect for summer if it ever gets here.
So, without any further rambling, I give you tandoori:
In a large bowl, mix:
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp powdered chilli
juice 1 lemon
8 cloves crushed garlic
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Stir into a paste, using a tiny bit of water if necessary.
Add 1 pint live natural yoghurt (can use low fat if required)
That’s it. You just mix it up. It really is that simple. To prepare meat or fish to go into it, slice the flesh to allow it to permeate through and marinade for 24 – 48 hours for maximum effect. Once marinaded, you can bake, grill or roast, whatever you want. You can then use your tandoori meat in curry recipes or you can eat it as is.
A note on the spices in this recipe – if you’d rather use preprepared garlic and ginger, no-one is going to judge you. Just measure out the equivalent from the tube. I use blended chilli powder (like I’d put in a Mexican chilli) because I like the flavour. You can use crushed red chilli. If you’re going to use cayenne, reduce the amount slightly or it’ll be very spicy. For a decadent touch, where money is no object, substitute your turmeric for saffron. This is particularly delicious for white fish, especially monkfish. It’s a more delicate, buttery flavour.
So, that’s the end of part one. If you have any questions, ask them below.