Wednesday, 11 July 2007

happily compartmentalising.

My new spice tin - discovered at the Indian cooking class I went to on Sunday. The teacher had one just like this, and I found this one at the Indian grocer on Market St in the city for $22! In here I've got (clockwise from left) turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, curry powder, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and garam marsala in the centre. On the left is the tray that sits inside above the spices, itself sitting in the upside down lid to the whole container. On it I'm keeping cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods and nutmeg. I think I will buy one more and hopefully that will be enough space to have done with the nightmare basket of spice bottles and packets in the pantry. Woohoo! So organised and happy!

The cooking class itself was quite a lot of fun! It was taken by Promila Gupta, an Indian nutritionist by training and ex-restaurant owner who seems to be grabbing life by the ears now that her kids are grown up - she's also the president of the Indian Association here and a whole heap else besides. Her approach kind of demonstrated the basic structure of a curry rather than giving exact recipes - I quite liked it because it seemed kind of controlled slap-dash which is how I prefer to cook (by feel rather than measurement), but within a clear set of constraints. And everything tasted great! She said most of the classes she takes are when people get together a group of 10 and then they can choose the dishes they'd like to learn. It sounds pretty tempting to me - I'm dying to know how to get that saag paneer right!

At the class, I learnt the secret to great raita: black salt (actually a mauve-ish colour). It really does make the raita taste more like the restaurant variety. Unfortunatly it's one of those ingredients that stinks on its own, and once you know what the undiluted stuff smells like, you may have trouble with the dish itself as well.

We learnt 10 different dishes, and last night I tried two - a Pea Pulao (Indian fried rice), and a chicken and mushroom curry. Here are the recipes, which are not exactly as we were given them, but rather how I made them, and they were yum-o!

Pea Pulao
1 cup of basmati rice
1 onion
1 -2ish cups of frozen peas
1 carrot, cut thinly into rounds
2 bay leaves,
1 inch cinnamon stick
6 green cardamom pods
6 cloves
1 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 teaspoons Bombay Biryani Marsala (in a box from the Indian grocer)
salt and garam marsala to taste

1. Chop the onion finely, and chop the carrot.
2. Fry the onion in a little oil until brown.
3. Add the cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom and cloves, fry a minute more.
4. Add the rice and stir and fry for a minute, coating well with the oil already in the pan.
5. Add the peas, carrot, Bombay Biryani Marsala, turmeric, a little salt, and 2 cups of water. Stir well and bring to the boil.
6. When boiling, cover and gently cook until the water is absorbed.
7. When ready season with a little garam marsala if desired (1/2 a teaspoon at a time), and adjust the salt if necessary.

Notes: If you wanted to make more or less you could just adjust the rice and water amounts and nothing else. The water just needs to be double the amount of rice you use. (This is true to a point, I think you could double the rice before you'd need to adjust the other stuff). I'm not sure the turmeric was necessary - I think there's turmeric in the BBM so if you don't have it I think it would be ok, but it does make it a pretty yellow colour. Lest you be tempted - don't substitute the BBM for garam marsala. We tried this and it was a nasty brown failure. Track down the right stuff - it should be easy enough to find in the Indian grocer, and pretty cheap too.

Chicken and Mushroom Curry
2 chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tub of tomato paste
1 small handful of finely chopped coriander
5-10 button mushrooms, cleaned and halved
2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt (approx)
garam marsala
chilli powder

1. Fry the chicken and set aside.
2. Fry the onion and ginger until brown and add the cumin seeds and fry a little longer.
3. Add the tomato paste and most of the coriander leaves.
4. Add the chicken and mushroom and mix, and cook until the chicken is thoroughly reheated and the mushrooms are cooked. If the sauce is too 'dry' add the yoghurt - more or less depending.
5. Add in garam marsala to taste (1/2 teaspoon at a time), and salt and chilli powder. Garnish with the remaining coriander.

Notes: You could use a tin of tomatoes or fresh tomatoes instead of the tomato paste. As this will be 'wetter', you may need to simmer it for a while until it thickens before adding the chicken, and you may not need the yoghurt. Alternatively, you could use cream or coconut milk instead of the yoghurt. My teacher said that you can add almond or cashew meal and/or spinach if you'd like.

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