Friday Night Indian Potatoes

Some of you have returned to work, some of you never left, and some are still working from home. Despite the changing nature of work and the uncertainties that plague our lives, Friday night is knock off night, a call for simple food, perhaps fish and chips from the local take away, or the equivalent version cooked at home. I’ve always struggled with chip cooking, but can recommend these Indian fried potatoes as a quick and tasty substitute. These are irresistible on their own. Make a big pile and forget about the fish.

Indian style fried potatoes with 5 seeds. This recipe serves 3 as a snack or a side. Double the ingredients for a decent size, they will all be eaten in a flash, I promise.

  • 500 gr potatoes. I used Desiree potatoes today.
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons panch phoran, ( a blend of 5 whole seeds including cumin, fennel, mustard, nigella and fenugreek seeds)
  • 3/4 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • dried chilli flakes to taste
  • a handful of chopped fresh coriander

Method

Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook in boiling salted water until just done.

Place the oil and seeds in a medium non stick frying pan and fry over a low heat for a minute or so, then add the turmeric, chilli and salt. Stir about, the add the potatoes, gently turning them so that they are coated in the spices. Cook over a low heat for a few minutes, turning gently, then turn up the heat so that they form a nice golden brown crust on both sides. when done to your satisfaction, serve, garnished with chopped coriander.

Note- if you don’t have panch phoron on hand, raid the seeds in your spice cupboard and create your own blend.

Recipe adapted from Indian Food made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007 a very handy collection.

Best Prawn Curry from Goa

I’m always in search of a better prawn curry than the one I made last time, but the search is over, for a while at least. I’ve made many a good prawn curry along the way, Prawn Jingha Masala, various Keralan prawn curries with coconut milk and fresh curry leaves, prawn Malabar and north Indian masalas, and have finally settled on Prawn Balchao, a prawn curry from Goa. The combination of spice and vinegar makes this gravy really appealing on a cold night. The recipe is relatively simple. Once you’ve made the paste, the rest follows within minutes. During lockdown times, I’ve used frozen prawn cutlets ( large Australian prawns that have been pre-shelled and frozen on board fishing trawlers) and now keep a supply stashed in the freezer especially for this curry.

Prawn Balchao for 2-4 or more with other dishes.

The spice paste

  • 8g ginger, peeled
  • 15 g garlic, peeled
  • 5 dried mild red chillies
  • 2 cloves
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

The curry

  • 2 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, finely chopped ( or use canned tomatoes with only a tiny part of the juice- about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 green chilli, left whole
  • 3-4 tablespoons malt or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 300 g raw prawn meat ( this is the shelled weight)

Make a paste of the ginger, red chillies, and all the spices. I find a large mortar and pestle is the best tool for this job. You can produce a fine paste with a couple of minutes of banging and grinding. A food processor is too large for a paste this small. Add a little water to the paste towards the end to achieve a fine texture.

Heat the oil in a large non stick wok and fry the onion gently until golden. Add the tomatoes and green chilli and fry for about 10-12 minutes over a moderate heat until the mixture becomes a deep red colour. Add a splash of water if the pan becomes dry.

Add the spice paste and fry for 5 minutes until the oil separates. Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook another minute and taste for a balance of flavours. adjust the salt if needed. Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes or until cooked through. At this point, if the curry is too dry, you can loosen it with water, or cream. The latter additions are not so authentic, but I like a wet gravy in this curry and so recommend loosening the mixture.

Serve with rice and other lovely sides, with some papadum or naan.

Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007. A very handy little book.

Varkala girls by the sea, memories of Kerala.

Muttar Paneer, My Favourite Curry

As promised, it’s curry recipe time. But first let me say a few words about that ubiquitous word ‘curry’. The word Curry is simply the anglicised form of the Tamil word kaṟi meaning ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice’. This makes sense as rice is central to all Indian meals, as it is in other parts of Asia, and the ‘curries’ are often presented in small bowls to add to your rice and not the other way around. If you order a large Thali in India, you will be offered unlimited rice along with little teacup sized scoops of spicy and bland accompaniments- perhaps some mild chickpeas flavoured with sour tamarind, a crunchy fried fingerling, some bland soupy dal, or a dry curry of spicy potato or cauliflower, along with some hot chutney and dahi (plain yoghurt). A good Indian curry recipe involves subtlety in spicing, variation in texture and balance. Some people associate the word curry with heat, but this is a misconception: there are more mildly spiced aromatic curries than hot versions. There are no prizes for choking on chilli, eyes weeping in pain. A good banquet of curries might include one hot dish such as a Madras or Vindaloo, alongside others that are medium or mildly spiced, with some wet and some dry dishes. 

Unfortunately, there’s no chance for a banquet here any time soon, given the restrictions on social gathering. So it’s down to one curry at a time in this household of two, made with care, and served with all the sides- basmati jeera rice, naan, chutney and dahi. We have time on our side.

 

Muttar Paneer ( peas and curd) Serves 4 or more as part of a banquet

This is a two part recipe. The first step involves making the curd (paneer) which can made the day before, or anytime up to 3 hours before you make the curry. The recipe for paneer, including photos of the process, follows this main recipe.

  • 4 Tables neutral flavoured oil, such as canola or a mixture of half oil and half ghee ( my preference for a richer sauce)
  • 250 gr paneer, cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 6 or more cardamom pods, bruised
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic puree*
  • 2 tsp ginger puree*
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2- 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 200 gr canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes with skins removed, finely chopped.
  • 350 gr whey or water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 125 gr frozen peas
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 Tblsp cream
  • 2 Tblsp chopped coriander leaves

Heat half the oil and ghee in a medium sized heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the paneer, sprinkling with a few pinches of turmeric if you wish. Cook till golden brown, turning gently.  Remove and drain.

Add the remaining oil to the same saucepan. Add the cardamom, stir about for a few seconds, then add the onion,and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, lowering the heat if need be, till soft. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently for 2 more minutes or until the onion is soft and a pale golden colour.

Add the ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for 1 minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4- 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of whey, (or water if you’ve used a commercial paneer ) stirring frequently until the oil separates from the spice paste. Then add the rest of the liquid, and salt. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 7-8 minutes.

Add the paneer and peas to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and cream and remove from heat. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander if you happen to have some. Mint works well too.

Serve with rice, naan and thin yoghurt or raita.

* the best way to produce ginger puree is grating it on a fine microplane, while garlic puree is best made bashed in a mortar and pestle. If I’m making a few different curries, I start with this step and make a bulk lot of each. 

Paneer recipe

Making paneer is the one of the easiest and most satisfying things to do. Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to those tough blocks sealed in plastic found in the fridges of Indian Delis. You will also be able to use the whey in your curry, so nothing is wasted. The whey keeps well for over a week and can be used in all sorts of curries and soups.

Ingredients for paneer to yield around 250 gr

  • 2 litres full cream milk
  • 3 tablespoons strained lemon juice

Boil the milk, making sure that it just reaches boiling point and doesn’t develop a skin or begin to froth. Stir occasionally while doing this. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and stir about until curds and whey separate. Leave it for 5 minutes, then tip into a muslin lined strainer over a bowl. The bowl will collect the whey. Wrap the curds tightly in the cloth, making a flattish shape, then place in the fridge on a plate with a heavy weight on top. Keep the whey and store in a bottle. The curd will be ready to use in 3 hours. Cut as required.

The pics below show the stages of paneer making. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes. The result is worth it.

The following chart gives an approximate guide of yield of paneer ( curd cheese) to milk. I used 1 litre of full cream milk for my most recent batch which produced 130 gr of paneer, enough for a large curry for two. The time before, my batch of 2 litres of milk produced a yield of 260 gr which is consistent, using full fat generic brand supermarket milk . UHT milk is not recommended. 

An approximate guide to yield of curd from milk. Use this chart to reduce or increase the recipe for paneer as required. Chart courtesy of Kurma Dasa. Who remembers cooking with Kurma?

For Maree Tink, who also enjoys making Muttar Paneer.

In My Indian Kitchen. December 2016

Curries, dhals, chutneys and spices are often present in my kitchen. Inspired by a new cookbook, Spice Kitchen, by Ragini Dey, I’ve been making a few onion Bhajees and curries of late. I borrowed this book from the library two months ago, and as I found it difficult to return, I realised I needed my own copy. Libraries can be dangerous like that. Unlike many of my other Indian cookbooks, this one doesn’t list too many ingredients. It also has that Indian- Australian modern touch.

Spice Kitchen
Spice Kitchen by Rajini Dey. Published 2013, Hardie Grant Books.

Every time Mr Tranquillo opened the spice drawer, millions of little packets of seeds and spices threatened to tumble out, assaulting his senses on the way. He called it the Dark Arts drawer, so I was forced to sort it out. Below is my orderly spice drawer: now all the spices are fresh and some even have labels. The freshest spices in Melbourne come from BAS Foods, Brunswick, where they pack spices weekly in their warehouse next door.

Dark arts drawer.
The Dark Arts drawer.

An old Tibetan Bell with Dorje lives near the kitchen. I was so devoted to my first Dorje bell, bought in India in 1978-9, that I called my youngest son Jack Dorje, a name that really suits him.

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Tibetan Bell reminds me of India and my son Jack

I found some good quality green prawns yesterday so the Bhajee recipe was given another trial, this time with prawns. I added some cumin seeds and chopped spring onion to the batter. I’ve always had a stand-by pakora batter recipe but this version is sensational. The key is the addition of white vinegar to the batter mix. (recipe below). Served with a mango chutney for dipping and a crisp wine, we watched the sunset highlighting the ridges along the horizon, our own Von Guerard view, a reminder that life is good.

Prawn pakora or Bhaji.
Prawn pakora/ bhaji.

Two days ago I made the Rajma Curry from my new book. Such a simple version and so easy to whip up. Have you noticed that curry tastes better when left for a day or two? The Rajma ( red bean) curry turned into this morning’s baked beans and poached egg breakfast. A breakfast fit for an Indian Queen, especially with a cup of Chai.

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Rajma ( red bean) curry with poached egg and yoghurt.

This year I am attempting a Christmas free December, but I couldn’t resist this little Indian ornament from Ishka. I love the half price sales at Ishka. Going there allows me to openly embrace my inner hippy. Although that’s not too difficult.

Ishka bells, Ishka bells....
Ishka bells, Ishka bells….blah blah all the way. Oh no, those songs are back.

And now for Spice Kitchen‘s recipe for Onion Bhajees. ( photo for these are on the header at the top of this post ). Pop on an evening Raga or a famous Bollywood playback singer to get into the mood. Eat them with the setting sun.

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 55 gr besan ( chick pea ) flour
  • pinch of chilli powder
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying.

Mix together the onion, besan, chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt in a bowl.

Add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water to the mixture gradually, and mix together until the besan coast the onion. There should be just enough besan mixture to hold the onion slices together. The amount of water required to achieve this consistency will depend on the type of besan you use as some besan flours retain more liquid that others.

Heat the oil in a wok to 180c. Deep fry a few Bhajees at a time for about 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

My Notes.

I prefer to mix the batter first then add the onion rings to the batter. Mix the batter to a custard like consistency for onion Bhajees or thicker for pakora coating. The batter must be thick enough to hold the onion rings to it.

I don’t use a kitchen thermometer. I test the oil by immersing a chop stick and if the oil bubbles around the stick, it’s ready.

Make the batter a little thicker to coat prawns. I doubled the amount of batter for 14 large tiger prawns.

I add other things to Indian frying batters, such as cumin seeds or nigella seeds, just for fun and flavour.

My onion bhajees cooked much faster than the time suggested in the original recipe above. They really don’t take more than a minute or two. Many are eaten by kitchen hoverers and never make it to the plate.

prawn pakora
prawn pakora with mango chutney.

Thanks Liz, once again, for hosting this amazing series. While IMK may seem to have a life of its own, it flounders without someone organised like Liz, from Good Things at the helm. By opening the link, you can discover other kitchens from around the globe. Why not write one yourself?

The Magic of Varkala, Kerala

Varkala is a magic spot. The small holiday beach town is perched vicariously on the edge of an eroding cliff, overlooking the Arabian sea. You can get to Varkala by car from Fort Cochin, a long and very slow trip which winds through an ocean of traffic, pedestrians and cows, or you could fly into Thiruvananthapuram, then take a car north. The state of Kerala is known by the locals ‘Gods Own Country and I am inclined to agree. It is tropical and lush, productive and the locals are very welcoming.

Another cup of ginger tea, watching the tides of The Arabian Sea.
Another cup of ginger tea, watching the tides of The Arabian Sea.

There is not a great deal to do in Varkala and there lies its appeal. Pastimes include sitting under a shady verandah, replenishing your cup from a large pot of ginger and honey tea in the early hours of the day or drinking a chilled Kingfisher beer at sometime later. These two sipping pastimes converge in restaurants that lack liquor licences: you may be served beer in a large teapot.

A kingfisher beer and a large salad with tofu.
A kingfisher beer and a large salad with tofu.

Sipping tea and watching the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea.
Sipping tea and watching the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea.

The locals love to chat, which makes walking far more interesting and certainly adds a few hours to the journey.  There are yoga classes, Ayurvedic treatments and cooking schools to attend. If you stay for  a long time, you might be inclined to write that great novel or learn the art of total relaxation. Internet services are fast and free, the food is very good and the accommodation is cheap.

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Local transport. The Guardian Angel is aptly named. The other small 3 wheeled motorbike taxi was named Jesus. You need to invoke a bit of help from the gods as you negotiate the crumbling and disappearing footpath along the cliff.

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Watching the locals play as the sun comes down in Varkala.

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Local girls by the sea.

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Cooking school for two. We attempted to eat all this food, and really needed to share it with 5 others!

 

Keralan Lemon Rice

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Lemon Rice from Kerala, India

The travel brochures in Kerala refer to their State as “God’s own Country” and I have to agree. Bordered on one side by the Malabar Coast, there are many spots along that stretch of sea to while away the hours, Varkala being the most famous. The breeze blows gently from the Arabian sea, the people are friendly, it is the home of Ayurvedic medicine, the food is sensational and the fertile jungle, reaching up into the tea gardens at Munnar, provide the world with the spices we love- cardamom, vanilla, black pepper, along with other goods such as coffee, tea, cashews, rubber and coconut. Like most folk who visit that State in India, we arranged to spend two days travelling on a rice barge through the backwaters,  a ‘network of  interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways.’ Kettuvallums, old restored rice barges, are houseboats which travel very slowly around the tranquil backwaters near Alleppey (Alappuzha), passing colourful villages, fertile agricultural scenery and larger lakes. It is easy enough to organise your trip once you are in Alappuzha. There are many agencies around the town or be guided by the recommendation of your guest house owner.

Life on board a rice barge, Keral India
Life on board a rice barge, Kerala, India

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A lone fisherman, backwaters, Kerala.

Our houseboat tour for two included all meals, a comfortable bedroom with en suite, two living areas, one with a dining table, the other, a deck with two comfortable cane chairs to watch the world go by. You may need to do some serious exercise after the trip as the meals are generous. We enjoyed a mostly vegetarian diet with the occasional fish when available. The meals included rice, chappatis or puri, four curries and raita, and fried river fish. The cook, a young man trained to work in hotel restaurants, would negotiate a fish purchase along the way by popping into backwater village markets for fresh supplies. On one occasion, he came back with some huge fresh water marron, which he cleaned and then rubbed with a wet masala mix to marinate for some hours before frying. I loved watching him prepare our meals.

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A seriously good lunch on board a houseboat in Kerala.

Lemon rice appears on the menu often in Kerala. It makes a perfect side dish to fried fish or an egg curry. It is  also a very soothing dish: there are never any leftovers.

Lemon rice
Lemon rice

Lemon Rice

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons channa dal
  • 3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 teaspoons or more of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add the cashews and channa dal, and stir over heat to roast. When the nuts begin to colour, add the hot rice, ginger, turmeric, salt and freshly chopped coriander. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Sprinkle with the lemon juice and asafoetida to serve.

Notes.  The success of this dish relies very much on all the little crunchy bits which are roasted at the beginning. If you don’t have channa dal, use masoor or mung dal instead. Broken raw cashews are often found in Middle Eastern stores. Use long grain or medium grain rice, not basmati.

Recipe adapted from Tasting India, Christine Manfield, 2011

Cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, INda. Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it!!!
A cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, India. Lemon rice towards the back, two paratha, one vegetable curry, one spicy fish, pakoras, banana pancake.  Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it all!!!

Indian Waves. Varkala Beach, Kerala

At Varkala in Kerala, India, the waves roll in from the Arabian Sea, bringing sweet, fresh air from distant lands. No land lies between this beach and the east coast of Africa.

The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India
The Arabian Sea, Varkala, India

Indian families come to Varkala’s Papanasam beach on the weekends and tentatively tip toe into the water’s edge: youths play ball games on the sand, as they do all over the world.

Sunset at Varkala beach.
Sunset at Varkala beach.

We retreat to the shade of a nearby restaurant and consider the menu. Perhaps a Kingfisher beer or a large pot of tea, or, depending on their licence, a beer served in a large teapot!

Old Hippy by the arabian Sea.
Mr Tranquillo by the Arabian Sea.

On a nominated day in the month of Karkidakam (mid July to August), thousands of people gather at the beach to make ritual offerings to the departed. These offerings are placed on banana leaves and carried out to sea by the waves. It is believed that the souls of dead ancestors attain ‘moksha’ or eternal release when ‘Vavu Bali’ offerings are made.

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Sunset over the Arabian Sea at Varkala, Kerala, India

A psychedelic Ganesha enjoys a day at the beach, pumping out Indian sound waves at a deafening volume, and providing that festive Indian touch.

Ganesha by the sea
Ganesha by the sea

Beautiful girls enjoy the waves, but rarely enter the sea.

Varkala girls by the sea
Varkala girls by the sea

Waves is the topic set by Ailsa this week at Where’s My Backpack.  Ailsa goes for a traditional New Year’s Day swim in the ice-cold waters of the Irish Sea. I’m staying on the edge, here with these Indian girls, and may take up wearing a silk sari too.

Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India
Grandmother, mother, daughter, friends. Varkala, India

The Road to Indigo

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Fabric speaks to me. I collect it, stash it, feel it. Antique European linens, worn Irish cloth, functional and timeless, faded Ikat from Java, Sumatra and Flores, woven wall hangings from Myanmar, mid-century Japanese Kimono sprinkled with shibori, or little fabric offcuts featuring sacred cranes, plush velvet Italian betrothal bedspreads, alive with colour and kitsch cherubin, or hand worked pillow cases and curtains from the antique market in Arezzo in Italy, embroidered table cloths, ancient filet crochet edging with worked in stories, words or historical events, crocheted jug covers featuring Dolly-Varden shells and beaded weights, Indian silk saris and long dupatta scarves, visiting every floor of a Sari shop in India: fabric hunting is a central part of my journey. It is often the history of women’s work, or a window into a culture, or one that is about to become obsolete, that appeals so much.

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Hand dyed indigo fabric is a recent addition to my textile addiction. I discovered some wonderful indigo fabrics at the Chatuchak ( Cha-Cha) Market in Bangkok in 2013. The following year, I toured an indigo factory in Dali, on the banks of Erhai Lake, Yunnan, China. And this year, I found another small producer of hand died indigo clothing on the banks of the Mekong River, in Chiang Khan, Thailand, as well as some lovely long lengths of deep indigo died linen in the back streets of the Warorot market, in Chiang Mai.

My next step is to learn this ancient art and dye my own cloth. I envisage drifts of indigo muslin, irregular in colour, floating in the summer breeze.Thanks Ailsa for this week’s travel theme, Fabric, at Where’s My Backpack. If I dug out all the representatives of my fabric collection, this post might fill a book.

Graceful Women of Varkala, India

Gracefulness always comes to mind when I think of Indian women: they move so lightly on the ground and float in a sea of sari.

Beautiful girls stand on the edge of the Arabian Sea.
Beautiful girls stand on the edge of the Arabian Sea.

1-IMG_3253Graceful is Ailsa’s travel them this week at Where’s My Backpack.

 

 

Travel Theme: Doorways in Kerala

I love to wake up on Saturday mornings to find Ailsa’s weekly travel theme from Where’s My Backpack waiting in my inbox. Today it’s doorways, so let’s go to Fort Cochin in Kerala, India, for 50 shades of Blue.

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