Curry, a meal that’s always scared me. Don’t know why. A lot of my friends over the years, who are not really good in the kitchen, have been able to make a mean curry. It’s probably the spices that scare me and that I don’t like hot spicy food so I worry about how much to use in case it’s too hot for me. So it’s always been a jar for me, although I often add a bit to it, usually extra onions, whole garlic cloves. Had a curry somewhere that they put whole cloves in, they are fantastic slow cooked in a curry sauce.
So why did I suddenly get up the courage to try making one from scratch? It has been brewing for a while, since I went to Benares in February and picked up a copy of Atul Kochhar’s Indian Essence. Each page makes me salivate. You see, I didn’t just want to make chicken tikka masala and pulao rice, you know me, has to be something different. So I go through the book and find some recipes I think are good to start with. I chose far too many dishes to attempt and soon realised that on Saturday when I looked at the size of my kitchen and how much ingredients I had brought.
So Saturday morning i go in search of spice, and would you believe, there’s a shop in a village just ten minutes down the road. So off I pop and come back laden with spices. Some of which I didn’t get to use because of my over ambitious plans. I put everything out, I look through the book again and the decision is made. The menu looks something like this:
Vaingan Katri (Stuffed Aubergine Steaks)
Meen Molee (Coconut Fish Curry)
Dharosh Chachhari (Spicy Dry Okra)
I added some boiled rice cooked with cardamom pods and naan bread to this. Belive me, I was struggling by the time the curry went on so had to keep things simple.
The aubergine steaks are very simple, the stuffing is a mx of grated carrot, potato and cauliflower flavoured with garlic, green chilli, cumin seeds, coriander, chilli powder, turmeric & ginger. Cutting the aubergine into steaks you cut out the middle of each and put the stuffing in the hole. Easy to make, easy to cook and delicious with just a warm hit from the chilli. I forgot to make the sauce that Atul suggests but I served everything up at the same time to disguise that fact.
For the curry, Atul suggest sea bass. I searched high and low, even going to a “proper” fish monger but the bass looked a bit ropey so I went for some monk fish instead. I cut it into a few good size chucks, coated in a mix of turmeric and salt and left on the side. The basic ingredients of the curry are coconut milk, onions, curry leaves, green chillies, garlic and turmeric. Most of it is cooked off before adding the fish and serving once the monk fish is ready. Some fresh coriander place on top and it’s done. I love coconut in curry and this is pretty damn good (sure it would have been even better if Atul had cooked it).
So far so good. Last dish I really have to concentrate on is the okra. Couldn’t be easier, spices, okra. That’s it really. The selection of spices this time are tamarind pulp, onion seeds, chilli powder, ground turmeric and then a drop of mustard as i couldn’t find any mustard seed paste. I like this dish a lot. Okra can be pretty boring sometimes and this recipe makes it worth getting some.
For the rice I lightly toasted some cardamom pods until they cracked open and put them in with the rice as it boils. Naan bread was freshly made but not by me. It was during making this meal I shouted out “I need a bigger kitchen” to the kitchen fairy. So far she hasn’t got back to me.
I love this book, Indian Essence, and recommend it to everyone. The recipes are so simple, even a curry making virgin like me can make a pretty good go of it. It’s left me inspired to try more and I even grabbed some of the spices the other night, fried them up with some veg that needed using up, served with naan bread and pheasant breast pan fried in garam masala. No idea what i was doing but as I seen the spices used in a single dish, I had a good guess it would be okay. It was. A quick 15 minute meal on a drizzly night.
Thank you Atul, thank you for the inspiration and the tweets of encouragement.
Fish curry, okra and aubergine dishes all from Indian Essence by Atul Kochhar
Benares Restaurant, Berkeley Square, London, 02076298886 www.benaresrestaurant.com
Follow Atul on Twitter @Atulkochhar