parveen's top tips
Fresh quality ingredients are essential when making a really good authentic Indian dish. In all my years of teaching cooking, one thing that would fluster my students is the ingredient list used when making Indian food. But these days nearly everything is readily available in many of the major supermarkets; they now have world food aisles, selling most all the ingredients you would need to cook from this cookbook. Many of the ingredients needed are common place, such as garlic, chilli, cumin etc and even fresh coriander is usually on sale in the fresh live herbs section. However, when it comes to dry spices, many people are not sure what to buy.
If you can manage it, try and shop in an Asian grocers, as they will have ALL the spices you need to cook my recipes. They sell a wide range of whole spices as well as powdered spices. Some spices are quite good when shop bought, for others, its best to buy the whole spices, roast and grind them your self, then store in an airtight jar. To grind your own spices; the best method is to use a coffee grinder, but a word of warning, once used to grind spices, you won’t be able to grind coffee again. For that reason, I have a coffee grinder, which is dedicated to grinding my spices. But I am quite lucky, as I have access to an industrial grinder, well, that’s the perks of having your own range of spices.
This is probably the most used of all the spices in my meat curry recipes. Garam masala, literally translated means ‘warm spice’ that’s because although very strong in flavour but it has very little heat. There are many recipes for garam masala; they differ from region to region and in my experience from family to family. I still use my mother’s recipe. Of course, if you don’t have time, you can buy ready-made, but I don’t think it is a patch on home ground and when eating the food, you can really taste the difference.
To make my version of Garam masala, I use a packet of the whole spice mix. This contains all of the spices you will need; you just need to adjust the quantities. Take out half of the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, and black cardamom, as this can make it slightly bitter. Then add extra 10% of coriander seeds and an extra 10% of cumin - which you can buy is separate packets. Dry fry them on a low heat in a non-stick pan for 1 to 2mins. Add a little a time in your coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Store in an airtight jar, they will remain fresh for up to a year.
My recipes for a Garam masala contain the following
• Bay leaves
• Black cardamom
• Coriander seeds
• Whole black pepper
THE ROLE OF SALT IN INDIAN COOKING
Salt is vital an ingredient to my recipes. It enhances the flavour of the chilli and without salt to counterbalance the flavour, the chillies taste too sharp. Many people are surprised at the amount of salt required in my dishes, but if you pro rata it down, you are probably eating less salt in a portion of chicken curry than you are in a bag of crisps. If you suffer from high blood pressure, try cutting the amount down by half or cut down your portion size and just have a little of something you fancy. However, these days I don’t tend use table salt, as it, makes me thirsty. I usually use sea salt. I am unsure about the science behind it as I am not a scientist but my son is, he graduated with a chemical engineering degree a few years ago and explained the difference between what we call table salt which is Sodium Chloride (not good for your body) as oppose to earth made sea salt (which is natural and better for you).
HIMALAYAN SEA SALT AND MUM
These days, I find that there is a trend for using Pink Himalayan Sea Salt. You can buy it in many high-end supermarkets. As the name suggests, it was originally sourced from the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, which stretch from India, China, Nepal and Pakistan. Many people believe Himalayan salt is the purest salt that can be found on the planet... and one of those believers was my mother. In fact the last time mum stayed with me, she mentioned for the umpteenth time how dad used to bring her natural large rocks of Himalayan salt and she'd spend hours grinding it, the good old fashion way, in a mortar and pestle. Well, my mum may have used old fashion methods, but she was using Himalayan salt, half a century before the rest of us. Well, it seems my mum was way ahead of her time.
SOME COMMONLY USED HERBS AND SPICES
Chilli powder is made from drying out and grinding fresh red chilli peppers. There are various levels of heat to chillies; the smaller the chilli the more powerful the flavour, the large the larger the chilli the milder the flavour. When cooking use a medium heat chilli powder and use more. Extra hot chilli powder can damage your stomach if not properly cooked.
Turmeric is used in most of my curry recipes, especially meat dishes. not always used in my recipes but is very good for you, as it can act as an antiseptic. Even now, when I am poorly, my mum gives milk turmeric milk to me the inside, and mum tells me that back in the day when she was young, her mother would make a turmeric paste to apply on any wounds. Bright yellow in colour, be careful, it can stain clothes.
DRY FENUGREEK LEAVES
These dried green leaves have a very strong pungent aroma. You could buy fresh and dry it out buy ready-made in packets is usually good quality. When adding to dishes, give it a squeeze in your fingertips first to release the flavours. I must admit, I am a fan of it and use in a lot of my vegetarian dishes, it adds real depth.
I use cumin quite a lot - I love it. I use to flavour yoghurt, potatoes, rice, even roast vegetables. Ready ground cumin is easily available in large supermarkets and it’s quite acceptable but try buying whole cumin seeds, roast and grind your own - it’s a different level of flavour.
Tandoori powder is reddish in colour but has no real flavour. Its tastes like a very mild version of paprika and is usually used to add colour to dishes like tandoori chicken. I sometimes add to my meat dishes to enhance the colour.
This spice has a slightly gingery and lemony flavour. I use it addition to garam masala to flavour a lot of my meat dish recipes. As with cumin, you can buy ready ground coriander powder but for a more authentic flavour, buy whole coriander seeds, roast and grind them at home.
POMEGRANATE SEED POWDER
This as the name suggests is made from drying out pomegranate seeds and then grinding them into a powder. It has a sour lemon-like flavour and if you cannot get hold of any, you can use a little lemon juice in its place. Pomegranate seed powder is used usually in starter type dishes like, samosas, spicy potato cakes and onion bhajis.
This ethnic herbs is a must in many Indian dishes and many of my recipes too. When shopping for coriander, take a piece and squish it between your thumb and index finger, this releases the lovely smell. if it smells good, it will taste good. Also, remember, most of the flavour is in the stalk which you can use whilst cooking. as for the leaves, add them at the end of the cooking process or use as a garnish.
I use a lot of cardamom in my desserts but not so much in any of my starters or mains. However, I know many other people that will use it in meat and rice dishes, I prefer not to. I think the strong flavour takes a way from the taste of the 'spicy' spice, if you get my meaning. But you will notice, nearly all the dessert recipes in this cook book contain cardamom, i love the taste with sweet dishes.
SOME COMMONLY USED ASIAN VEGETABLES AND PULSES
OKRA (LADIES FINGERS)
Okra is an acquired taste but nevertheless a flavoursome vegetable that is commonly used in Indian cooking. Okra is firm to the touch and has a slightly furry feel. Okra can turn ‘slimy’ if water is added whilst cooking. You will need to wash it while whole, dry with a cloth and then slice.
This vegetable is becoming more popular of late and is widely available now. Courgettes have a delicate flavour and soak up spices really well. Courgettes are used in my recipes for mixed vegetable curry. When buying courgettes, make sure they are firm to the touch. You can either peel or cook with them with the skin on.
This beautiful purple vegetables is used in my mixed vegetable recipe. Aubergines do not have to be peeled, just slice and use in the recipe. Aubergines can come in various sizes
RED SPLIT LENTILS
This is probably the most commonly used lentil and makes ‘Tarka Daal’ its orange when dry but turns a beautiful golden yellow when cooked.
This is yellow lentil which has a has a nutty flavour. It takes quite a long time to cook but if you soak it first, it reduced down the cooking time. Most large supermarkets stock this type of lentil.
I nearly always use tinned chick peas, they taste good and keep their shape when cooked. The canned chick peas, can vary in size, but try and buy the larger ones, they seem to work better in my recipes.
The importance of Ginger and Garlic
Many of my recipes for curries require the use of ginger and/or garlic and more often than not, they are used together. Not so much with the starters but mostly the main dishes and usually the meat dishes rather than the vegetarian dishes. The history probably lies in the fact that people would use ginger and garlic to preserve the meat as well as warding off bacteria that thrive in hot climates.
Always use fresh wherever and whenever possible
When cooking the recipes in this website and my cook book, try wherever and whenever possible to use fresh garlic bulbs and fresh root ginger as opposed to frozen, ready-made pastes and powders. When buying garlic bulbs, make sure the whole bulb is intact and is quite firm to the touch, white with streaks of purple or just white garlic is fine (see photo below). Again with fresh root ginger, make sure it is firm to the touch. Fresh root ginger looks like a mini bark of a tree and is light brown in colour (see photo below).
Alternatives to Fresh
Recently, I have been experimenting with ready-made bought frozen ginger and garlic. They are a good alternative to fresh and actually work quite well with Indian cuisine and my recipes. If you don’t have the time to buy and prepare fresh ginger and garlic, many of the larger supermarkets sell frozen ginger and garlic, so give them a go. You can buy ones that contain 100% ginger and 100% garlic, read the ingredients before you buy. Other alternatives to fresh garlic and ginger; are pastes but they usually contain preservatives including citric acid and this tends to leave an acidic aftertaste. As a last resort, you could use ginger and garlic powders which you will find in the spice section in most supermarkets. Powders have a long shelf life but in terms of their flavour, they are a poor relation to the real thing but if you have no choice but to use powders, then do what you must.
Methods to Prepare Garlic
There are several ways to prepare garlic. One of the easiest is probably using a garlic crusher, I have got this super duper garlic crusher, that doesn’t even require you to peel the garlic, just pop in a clove give it a good squeeze... simple! In complete contrast to this is the traditional way that my mum used to crush garlic and I still do today, which is to use a mortar and pestle. Peel the garlic; a quick tip of how to peel garlic, flatten the garlic using the flat side of your knife, place it on top of the garlic and squish it a little, then use your thumb to peel away the thin papery-like skin, peel from the ridged end of the garlic. Once the garlic cloves are peeled, slice it and place it into the pestle, add a little salt to stop it slipping about, which tends to happen as you bash away. I find the salt helps to create a great paste, just remember to deduct the amount of salt you have used from the recipe. Don’t make the mistake I did when I first learnt to cook, I added a teaspoon of salt to crush the garlic, then added another 2 teaspoons in the chicken masala. Not good, but lesson learnt. Another common method to prepare garlic, is to use a mini chopper or blender, peel the garlic, add 3 tablespoons of water to help the blending process and blitz for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth.
Methods To Prepare Root Ginger
Again, as with Garlic, there are several ways to prepare fresh root ginger. To peel the ginger, you can either scrape away the tough brown skin using a knife or use the edge of a spoon which will suffice. You can grate the ginger using the small side of a cheese grater and this works quite well with the ‘stringy’ flesh of root ginger. Or you can use the traditional method of a mortar and pestle. Peel the ginger, cut it into ½ cm slices, width ways and crush. No need to add salt, as it easily breaks down. And of course you can use an electric mini chopper or blender, just add 3 tablespoons of water and blitz for a couple of minutes.
Making Home-made frozen ginger and garlic
Sometimes, when I have the time and inclination, I peel my ginger and garlic en masse and freeze it in ice cube trays. It may be time consuming and frankly quite a ‘smelly’ task but once I have my own stash in the freezer, I feel a real sense of achievement. Needless to say, once you have used the ice cube trays to freeze your ginger and garlic, they are no good for anything else. The smell is just ingested by the plastic. To make your own stash; peel the garlic and ginger, cut into 1cm pieces, blitz in a blender with some water for at least 2 to 3 minutes or until you have a smooth paste. Carefully pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, take out the frozen pieces and put into a plastic freezer bags. Its best to double bag, as the smell is quite potent and you don’t want your freezer to be taken over by the smell.
OIL, GHEE AND BUTTER
‘To ghee or not to ghee’ that is the question. I am often asked by my student, if I use Ghee (purified butter) in my cooking. Traditionally, ghee was used in the preparation of many dishes. But these days for a healthier option you can use other oils without compromising the flavour, oils including;
Sometimes to add flavour, I use butter, for example, in the stock when making rice or to spread on hot chapattis. Some people are taken aback about the amount of oil used, especially in curries. But you need oil to make a good curry as the spices need to be fried to cook them through. If you wanting a healthier option, either half the amount of oil, or drain the oil once the food is cooked. If you cook a curry without oil, it tends to taste like a spicy casserole and will not have that depth of flavour that a good curry has.