Curries


kashmiri-spiced-spring-greens

So spring has finally sprung… at least here in the UK. It’s amazing how the days of unseasonal snow and chilled-to-the-bones weather seem a distant memory. Now bright sunlight is sprinkled over everything like free-range egg yolks pushed through fine-mesh sieve; and daffodils have been peeping through the sand cautiously, looking like Victorian women’s bonnets.

I thought all this weather talk was purely a British trait, but having read several books by American authors, I realise that it’s an American convention, too: every American book I have read recently, without exception, contains lengthy, evocative descriptions of the weather. The weather is, in fiction as in real life, always a silent extra character in the background.

Of course, a change in the weather also means a change in the way we eat. I no longer want to eat hearty casseroles and baked dishes: just give me sprightly food, ideally in grass-green, sunlight-yellow, cherry blossom-pink… and other colours of the spring. And I don’t want in-your-face flavours this time of the year either.

This renowned Kashmiri dish, known as ‘haak’, makes good use of early-season tender leaves of spring greens. Use Kashmiri spinach, if you live in a part of the world where you have access to it. I have never seen Kashmiri spinach in the UK. Spring greens (collard greens in USA), are a perfectly suitable substitute, as is ordinary spinach. Or use a combination of different types of greens – I’m sure whatever variety is local to you would work well in this recipe.

The cooking technique used here – in which the greens are gently boiled in water and flavourings, tempered with onions and chillies, and finished with aromatic ground spices – is a traditional Kashmiri way of making this classic dish. You may, if you like, simply stir-fry the shredded leaves with spices if you want to retain their bright green colour and crisp texture.

The quantity of chillies may seem a lot to those who are not used to them, but Kashmiri chillies (widely available in UK supermarkets) are mild and used mostly for their vivid red colour; and in any case, you can adjust the quantity to suit your own taste – or replace the chilli powder with paprika. If you can’t find black cumin seeds (also available in supermarkets and Indian grocers), substitute ordinary white cumin seeds; but do not use fresh ginger in place of dried ginger powder – which is an authentic Kashmiri spice, used in many savoury dishes.

This recipe doesn’t have a sauce, making it ideal to serve as an accompanying vegetable. Serve with plain steamed rice, alongside a bean, lentil or paneer (Indian cheese) dish for a balanced meal – though to be perfectly honest, I’m happy to gobble it up with plain rice all on its own. Serves 4.

4 pints/ 2 litres water
1¼ lb/ 500g tender spring greens, stems removed and shredded
1 level teaspoon turmeric powder
6 fresh green spring garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon Kashmiri (or other mild) red chilli powder, steeped in ½ cup water
Salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
1 dried Kashmiri (or other mild) red chilli, slit
1 teaspoon Kashmiri (or other mild) red chilli powder
2 teaspoons black cumin seeds, crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder

1.    Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add spring greens, turmeric powder, minced garlic, red chilli water, and salt. Stir well.
2.    Lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid, and cook the greens until tender. There should be very little water remaining.
3.    In a small frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the onions and fry until pale golden brown.
4.    Add the dried red chilli to the onions and let it sizzle until it turns a couple of shades darker. Add the red chilli powder, and give the mixture a stir.
5.    Pour the onion and chilli mixture into the cooked spring greens. Add the crushed black cumin and powdered ginger, and combine well. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve hot.

kenyan-vegetable-lentil-stew

This fiery dish is not for the faint-hearted! You can substitute black-eye beans for the lentils. Serve with plain steamed rice or bread, accompanied by creamed yams, fried plantains, or cornmeal pudding. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons groundnut or corn oil
25g/ 1 oz butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 red birdseye chillies, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot red chilli powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
8 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 oz brown or green lentils, washed
2 litres unsalted vegetable stock
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
125g/ 5 oz spring greens or other greens, shredded
Salt and pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered lengthways
2 unwaxed lemons, quartered lengthways

1. Heat the oil and butter together in a large, heavy saucepan, and cook the onions and garlic until soft but not browned.
2. Add the chillies and the dry spices, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the spices give off their aroma. Take care not to burn the spices, or they will taste bitter.
3. Add the tomatoes, lentils and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Make sure the stock is unsalted, or the lentils won’t cook easily.
4. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils have cooked.
5. Add the potatoes and carrots, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the greens and the seasoning, and cook with the lid on for a further 10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.
6. Garnish with egg and lemon wedges, and hand around extra chillies for those who are feeling brave.

Sri Lankan curry powder is found in Indian and Sri Lankan grocers – in London, there are many in Wembley and Tooting. Or alternatively, you can make your own (recipe given below). Curry leaves, too, can be found in Asian grocers. This spicy, unusual dish is ideal for dinner parties. Serves 6.

125 g/ 5 oz whole unsalted cashewnuts, soaked for at least 6 to 8 hours
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 large red onion, minced
20 fresh curry leaves
4-inch stick cinnamon, halved
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 green chillies, finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon Sri Lankan curry powder (see below)
1 tablespoon desiccated coconut soaked in 300 ml/ ½ pint can coconut milk
300 ml/ ½ pint water
½ teaspoon turmeric
Salt
50g/ 2 oz frozen peas
Juice of 1 lime
Large handful coriander leaves

To make Sri Lankan curry powder, roast and grind together:
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons desiccated coconut
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli
1 teaspoon rice
20 fresh curry leaves

1. Drain the cashew nuts in a colander.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions, curry leaves and cinnamon, and cook until they are a couple of shades darker. Add ginger, garlic, chillies and curry powder and cook gently for 2 – 3 minutes.
3. Add the cashewnuts and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add half the coconut milk mixture together with the water, turmeric, salt, and peas. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, on low heat for 20 minutes until the cahewnuts are tender.
5. Take the lid off, add the remaining coconut milk mixture and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the lime juice and coriander leaves. Serve with vegetable pilau rice.

Hyderabadi cuisine is one of the most delicious and complex of Indian cuisines. You’ll love this recipe! Serves 4.

2 onions, quartered
1-inch piece ginger, cut into 4 pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
2 to 4 green chillies, halved
4 black peppercorns
2 cloves
1-inch stick cinnamon
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon white urad dal (available in Indian grocers) or ordinary lentils
6 fresh curry leaves
125g/ 5 oz tomatoes, peeled, deseeded, and finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt
125g/ 5 oz fresh green peas
2 tablespoons yoghurt
Half cup water
4 tablespoons coriander leaves, finely chopped

1. Finely grind the onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon in a food processor.
2. Heat the oil in a lidded saucepan and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal (or lentils) and curry leaves until the seeds begin to pop, and the lentils and leaves become a couple of shades darker. This will only take a minute; be careful not to burn the spices.
3. Add the onion mixture, tomatoes, turmeric, salt, peas, yoghurt, and water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer with the lid on until the peas are cooked.
4. Add coriander leaves, and serve hot with chappaties.

jungle-curry1

Jungle curry is Thai curry made without coconut milk, and this flavour-packed recipe is sure to appeal to lovers of hot, spicy food. Vegetarian red curry paste is available from most supermarkets, or can be made by combining equal quantities of dried red chillies, coriander seeds, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, and kaffir lime peel. Substitute any Thai vegetables you like, and add tofu if you wish – as long as you keep to the basic quantities, the recipe is pretty flexible. Serves 2.

2 tablespoons groundnut oil
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1-inch piece ginger, shredded into thin matchsticks
8 fl oz/ 240 ml vegetable stock
4 oz yard-long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 baby aubergines, quartered
6 baby corn, halved
4 kaffir lime leaves, rolled up and finely sliced
1 red birdseye chilli, sliced diagonally
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
Half teaspoon sugar
Salt

1. Heat the oil, and fry the curry paste for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the ginger and vegetable stock, then stir for a couple more minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are al dente. Serve with plain or coconut rice and a tofu dish.