#Veganuary Day 6. Tadkha is the word

img_7332When David had his 60th birthday tea, as he was leaving the lovely Sandip pressed a plastic box into my hands and said something like “you will be exhausted tonight, have this box of ……..” but I didnt catch the word. However he was right. We were exhausted, and when I opened the box about 8pm that evening a heavenly waft of fresh and deep curry paste rose to greet me. This is what we are having tonight and having checked with Sam earlier, the word is ‘tadhka’ which means something like curry-paste-base-for-any-meat-or-vegetable-curry.

Today me and my man had a lovely relaxed mooch around Norwich, wandering up Magdalen Street, visiting Three Magdalen Street and its fab modernist original pieces of furniture; Loose’s where I was tempted by two Swedish school lockers and some little Swedish saucepans; then up to revisit the Little Shop of Vegans where my original impression was confirmed. Catering to a particular market, it is a great ambassador for the vegan diet and is heavy on T shirts and soaps, has two fridges with  many products mimicking meat but sadly no fresh soya milk or soya products. Hey ho.  Then we went to Desh – the wonderful Halal supermarket. Bought Doodhi (bottle gourd) and little aubergines, some fresh dill and coriander.  Then into the centre of town and back to Tofurei which was a little more lively than when I was there earlier in the week but which -perversely for the first soya based dairy in Norwich – sells lovely chocolate, strawberry or vanilla (sweetened) soya milk but no plain unsweetened soya milk.  However the soft fresh tofu looked divine and the tasty morsels of herbed tofu sausages and burgers were really lovely, as was the the truly scrumptious Tyne Chease boxes – we bought the smoked chease – and the cakes were mouthwatering.  I am going to make some pasta with the tofu tomorrow (tofu instead of egg). Yes, I know. Wierd. But I am told you cannot tell the difference….. watch this space.

img_3685Then, because it cannot be ignored, and to enter its portals is to guarantee purchasing at least one book, to The Book Hive where I spent my Christmas money. For once I bought only two  We had lunch and mint tea in Moorish, the Felafel bar in Lower Gate Lane and we confirmed that the Norwich Lanes, with their independent shops and eateries, knock The Malls in Norwich into cocked hats.

We staggered home, and himself immediately disappeared into the workshop for four hours whilst I pottered about in the kitchen. And so to dinner.  I made some dough for flatbread which is currently proving in the best spot in the house. On the floor. In the bathroom. By the oil filled radiator.

Then I set to and made the Tadkha.  These are the things you need to prepare.  First, chop 3 onions in the food processor until nearly a paste and dry them in a non stick wok on a high heat for about 15 minutes. Keep checking that they are not sticking.  Then mince 3 cloves of garlic and 6 green chillis into it (easier to do this with a pestle and mortar). Add to the onions then add about 25ml olive oil.

Dry roast the following: a dessert spoon full of cumin seed, half a dessert spoon of coriander seek, a small stick of cinnamon, 2 black cardamom img_3689pods, remove from the heat when they are popping and allow to cool a little. Then grind in either a pestle and mortar, or I use a coffee grinder specifically kept for spices.  Add to the onion mixture, turn down the heat and cook gently with the lid on for about an hour. Yes, an hour.

Then add a tablespoon of tomato purée and cook for about 5 minutes until the oil separates.  Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Add two inches of grated fresh ginger (keep some in your freezer and grate from frozen) and a small bunch of fenugreek leaves (I substitute with fresh dill).  Add a little salt, a dessert spoon of garam masala and turmeric powder, stir and cook for a few more minutes.  Then its done. It should look deeply red and be a thick paste.

This  may appear to you to be fiddly and time-consuming but it isn’t once you get into the swing of it.  Just turn on 6Music and relax. My kitchen cupboard is stocked up with fresh spices and you might want to start your collection too. But don’t let them get stale. They don’t keep forever and the beauty of Tadkha is that it is fresh, deep and vibrant all at the same time, because the flavours develop in the pan and the ingredients are freshly ground.  So dont be tempted to use ground spices (with the exception of turmeric in this instance).  I keep every day use spices in my masala dabba img_3690and the rest of the stock in sealed bags in a basket where they wont get too hot or damp.

So what have I made for tonight? I chopped the lovely little aubergine and bottle gourd purchased in Desh and fried off in a pan with a little onion. When soft I added about four hefty tablespoons of the Tadkha and loosened it slightly with just a little water.  You could also use yogurt. Then I cooked the vegetables in the sauce for about 5 minutes, and added a handful of spinach leaves. Then I turned off the heat and kept the lid on.

I also cooked the eternal standby in our house. Chick peas with chilli, cinnamon, coconut and fresh coriander and it couldnt be simpler.  Fry two large chopped onions with some chilli flakes and an inch of chopped fresh ginger in very little oil.  When the onion looks like its going to stick, add the water from a tin of chick peas and cook for a further five minutes.  Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes, two tins of chickpeas (you will have used the water from one, but drain the other)  and a tin of coconut milk, a flat dessert spoon of ground cinnamon, a flat dessert spoon of brown sugar and a grind of black pepper.  Let it cook for about an hour then add just a little  salt to taste. Before you serve, stir in some chopped fresh coriander leaf.

So cooking today took a little while, because I had to make the Tadkha. But I only used about a third of it so now there is some sitting in a jar in the fridge.  Its a good standby , and in a similar vein as having Thai green curry paste to hand, it means you can produce a quick curry by adding it to chopped chicken or lamb and adding a little more water or some yogurt.

So now, I am going to roll out the flatbreads and freeze what we dont eat.    And make a simple raita with grated cucumber (centres removed), salted then mixed with yogurt and fresh coriander. Except I wont eat that bit because its Veganuary!!

By the way. If you are in Marylebone, make sure you visit Sam’s sister Ravinder’s restaurant Jikoni, which opened to four star reviews last year.

Fran’s curry

My oldest, (sorry, dearest) friend Fran was bemoaning the lack of curry on the Hecichera site. This one is for you, remembering the many curries you’ve eaten at ours.  All of them meat. Never a vegetable in sight.  Had the cheek to tell  me this week that there is far too much green stuff on the photo’s!  Confirmed carnivore that she is, this is a special curry that will evoke memories of midnight hockey, milk trains, Bungay, beer in Southwold, cocktails in Montpelier Square, Singing in the Rain, MDF on Hayling Island, poppies, scatter cushions and many others.

Dry roast the following:  3 teasp cumin seed, 2 teasp coriander seed, 3 cloves, 2 black cardomom, 6 green cardomom, a 2.5cm stick of cinnamon, a scattering of chilli flakes.  Toast them gently and then remove from the pan.  Cool them slightly.  Then dry roast 4 tbsp urud dhal, cool and then grind in a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar with the roast spices.  Add 2 tbsp grated coconut.  Leave out the coconut if you dont like it.                       Add 1 tsp turmeric to the mixture.

If you prefer, use a good quality curry powder or paste – but you won’t get the gorgeous depth of flavour as you do when you grind your own spices.  It’s not difficult, and the more you do it, the more you can adjust the flavours to suit your palate.

Put two large onions in a food processor and chop them small, remove and add the spices, two tbsp tomato puree, 100ml yogurt and 2 tsp salt.  Add this loose spicy paste to 1kilo diced lamb – shoulder or leg is good.  Mix well, cover and preferably leave somewhere cool overnight.

Then fry another chopped onion with a chopped fresh chilli or two in plenty of oil and remove from the pan.  If you don’t want it hot, simply remove the seeds from the chilli. The more seeds you leave in the hotter it will be.  Add the lamb in batches and sear till browned, taking the lamb out as you go and adding more.  Don’t add too much or the lamb will simply steam and sweat (not pleasant).  When it is all browned, return to the pan and add two tins chopped tomatoes and one tin of water.  Stir the sticky bits off the bottom of the pan then bring it to the boil then leave on a low heat gently simmering with the lid off for about 3 hours.  Taste the sauce and check the seasoning.  It should be thick and rich and sticky.  The Urud dhal is a lovely addition, making the sauce slightly nutty but the combination of the sauce reducing and the dhal thickening makes the sauce spectacular, deep red and with great depth of flavour.  Just before you serve, take off the heat, stir in 1 tbsp soft brown sugar and a cube of butter.

Serve this with rice, naan bread or flatbread.  The addition of a coriander chutney is divine.

For the chutney, in the small bowl of your processor chop one chilli, three cloves of garlic, a pinch of sugar and a large bunch of coriander.  Add half a tin of coconut milk, a pinch of salt and the juice of a lime.  Process till it is smooth and bright green.  This chutney packs a punch but its flavour is so bright and tangy, it works well with the rich lamb.

Biryani on a hot, sultry July day

It was hot. Sultry. Steaming. Oppressive.  And that was just in the garden.  I had the germ of an idea for supper but it felt incongruous. But then again, it felt right. Vegetable biryani. All the windows and doors were wide open but not a breath of cool air. I was drawn to warm sweet spices – cumin, cinnamon, chilli, cardamom this evening.

In a heavy based wide shallow pan warm plenty of (about 30ml)  gorgeous Yare Valley rapeseed oil. It is so beautiful. Almost the colour of saffron.Lightly cover the bottom of the pan with chilli flakes and cumin seed, crushed green cardomom and half a stick of cinnamon broken into pieces.  Let the spices heat very gently, then added sliced shallot, some chopped fennel, chunks of the last butternut squash from last year’s winter garden, and chopped courgette – cooking them gently for 10 minutes with the lid on.  Then turn up the heat, added a large chopped tomato (minus the pips), black pepper, a little salt and a scant dessert spoon of sugar which combined with the high heat will char the edges slightly.  By now the vegetables should be just cooked but still firm.  Add two handful’s of basmati rice quickly followed by 750ml hot vegetable stock and the lid!

When the steam is vigorously belching out from under the lid, KEEP THE LID ON and turn the head down low, letting it gently steam away.  Don’t be tempted to lift the lid. The idea is that the stock turns to steam and the steam hits the lid then drops back down on the rice. That way you get lovely fluffy rice and no mush.

Whilst it is placidly gurgling away to itself on a low heat, put more rapeseed oil into a pan and add more cumin seed and chilli flakes then fry sliced onions until golden brown.  You will have noticed that these so-called measurements are desperately imprecise.  That’s because 1) whatever is in the fridge will go in the Biryani, 2) I have no idea how hot or spicy you like your Biryani but you do! 3) The freshness of your spices will influence the over all flavour.  A gorgeous Biryani will be full of flavour and spice without it overwhelming the flavour of the vegetables. The spicing should enhance the vegetable flavours, not drown them.  Anyway, after 20  minutes  (with the lid on!) the Biryani will be ready. Resist temptation.  Just leave it there for another 10.  The flavours will develop and will offer up intense warm spicyness and aroma without too much of a fiery chilli hit. When you are ready to eat, simply remove the cinnamon sticks and discard them, and  tip the crispy onions onto the top.  In my view the Biryani is best eaten about 30  minutes after this – still warm and definitely not hot.

Me. Him. The sofa.  Beer. Wallander.  The rain and the thunderstorm came about  2 hours later.

Vegetable Biryani on a hot and humid July evening

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It was hot. Sultry. Steaming. Oppressive.  And that was just in the garden.  I had the germ of an idea for supper but it felt incongruous. But then again, it felt right. Vegetable biryani. All the windows and doors were wide open but not a breath of cool air. I was drawn to warm sweet spices – cumin, cinnamon, chilli, cardamom this evening.

In a heavy based wide shallow pan warm plenty of (about 30ml)  gorgeous Yare Valley rapeseed oil. It is so beautiful. Almost the colour of saffron.Lightly cover the bottom of the pan with chilli flakes and cumin seed, crushed green cardomom and half a stick of cinnamon broken into pieces.  Let the spices heat very gently, then added sliced shallot, some chopped fennel, chunks of the last butternut squash from last year’s winter garden, and chopped courgette – cooking them gently for 10 minutes with the lid on.  Then turn up the heat, added a large chopped tomato (minus the pips), black pepper, a little salt and a scant dessert spoon of sugar which combined with the high heat will char the edges slightly.  By now the vegetables should be just cooked but still firm.  Add two handful’s of basmati rice quickly followed by 750ml hot vegetable stock and the lid!

When the steam is vigorously belching out from under the lid, KEEP THE LID ON and turn the head down low, letting it gently steam away.  Don’t be tempted to lift the lid. The idea is that the stock turns to steam and the steam hits the lid then drops back down on the rice. That way you get lovely fluffy rice and no mush.

Whilst it is placidly gurgling away to itself on a low heat, put more rapeseed oil into a pan and add more cumin seed and chilli flakes then fry sliced onions until golden brown.  You will have noticed that these so-called measurements are desperately imprecise.  That’s because 1) whatever is in the fridge will go in the Biryani, 2) I have no idea how hot or spicy you like your Biryani but you do! 3) The freshness of your spices will influence the over all flavour.  A gorgeous Biryani will be full of flavour and spice without it overwhelming the flavour of the vegetables. The spicing should enhance the vegetable flavours, not drown them.  Anyway, after 20  minutes  (with the lid on!) the Biryani will be ready. Resist temptation.  Just leave it there for another 10.  The flavours will develop and will offer up intense warm spicyness and aroma without too much of a fiery chilli hit. When you are ready to eat, simply remove the cinnamon sticks and discard them, and  tip the crispy onions onto the top.  In my view the Biryani is best eaten about 30  minutes after this – still warm and definitely not hot.

Me. Him. The sofa.  Beer. Wallander.  The rain and the thunderstorm came about  2 hours later.

Quick and dirty curry

This curry is an adapted version from Nigella. It’s simple, it’s failsafe and it takes no time at all.  The version I am offering is bursting with flavour and is also a low fat version. No compromise on flavour though.

All you need to start with is a good rounded teaspoon of green thai chilli paste and a generous dessert spoon of golden yellow turmeric (slight Nigella flutter of the eyelashes there).  Put in the bottom of a saucepan with about 1tbsp of water and let it cook a little.  Then add one small can of coconut milk – if you want the full fat version then put the whole can in, and cook the curry paste and turmeric in a little oil.  Stir it round a bit and then add 3 tbsp fish sauce (mine is in a large bottle from the Kin Yip Chinese supermarket but you can also get smaller bottles in high street supermarkets). In case you are wondering, the fish sauce is fish stock made from shellfish and it has an intense flavour. Then add about 500ml boiling water.

Now, peel and chop half a butternut squash into 2.5cm squares (well to be honest I am never that precise!) and chop some french beans into three and drop into the curry stock.  You are aiming to add sufficient vegetables to that they are just covered by the stock.  I tend to use squash because it is so gorgeously orange and sweet, but you could use potatoes if you wish.  Anyway. Bring this to the boil and simmer very gently – the squash takes about 20 minutes but potatoes might take a bit longer.  Remember that you wont need extra salt because the fish sauce is the seasoning. Add one teaspoon of sugar at this stage.

5 minutes before the end, throw in about a cup of frozen peas and one large tomato (by which I mean a tomato like a Marmande), chopped into chunks.  Cook for the final 5 minutes then take off the heat, squeeze in the juice of one lime and add a small handful of chopped coriander and finely sliced spring onion tops.

Sometimes I add prawns, and sometimes I add firm white fish 10 minutes before the end.  Today I added tofu.  Whatever you add, tofu or fish, dont go stirring too vigorously or you’ll break it up. If you are using frozen prawns make sure they are defrosted as frozen fish is about 30% water by my judgement – and you dont want to dilute that gorgeous curry/coconut sauce.

Serve with rice – or sometimes I just ladle it into a bowl and eat with a spoon as if it is Tom Yum (but without the noodles)…… thinking about it, you could put noodles in.  Try it and see what you think.  In the back door after work, and dinner in a dish in 25 minutes. What more could you ask?

Samosas with mango salsa

A long run of visitors and little time for the blog.  Apologies.

Tonight we had a re-run of last night’s farewell curry festival when Mark spent the last night with us before returning to Norway. I was sad to see him go – we had rekindled so easily, the friendship of our childhood and shared many happy family memories.  But I made far too  much curry  – lamb rogan josh, eight hour chick peas, hot and sour vegetable curry, cauliflower and potato curry,  mango salsa, potato and pea samosa – which meant that tonight there was only a small amount of cooking to do (ie replenish the samosa stock).coriander and coconut chutney

So here’s the samosa recipe.

You’ll need your food processor for ease, but you can also mix the pastry by hand.  Mix together 300g gram (chick pea) flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 25ml vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon black mustard seed and 1 teaspoon cumin seed.  Then add cold water bit by bit until you have a soft dough.  Put the dough in a plastic bag and leave for about an hour.

Dice four medium sized potatoes into small dice (don’t bother peeling them).  In a shallow pan heat about 1 tbsp oil then add 2 tablespoons of the garam masala spice mix (on this blog). Cook it gently for a minute, then add half a finely chopped red chilli.  Then add the potatoes and mix in with the spices.  Fry these for about 5 minutes then add 75ml water and put the lid on, cooking the potato gently until all the water has disappeard and the potato is just cooked.  Then add a mug full of frozen peas, stir into the spice and potato mix and then add some salt.  Take off the heat and allow to cool completely.

The key to a good samosa is remembering two things.  1) the filling should be hotter (chilli heat) and slightly saltier than you think it should, and 2) the oil for the final frying should be smoking hot (that way the samosa gets crispy but doesn’t absorb the oil).

Take the dough out of the bag and knead it.  It should be fairly soft but not sticky.  Then scatter the work surface with coarse semolina (I use this instead of flour), pull walnut sized pieces off the dough and roll out quickly  and cut into circles.  Then cut each circle in half.

P1020863Pick up a semi-circle of pastry and dampen the straight edges, then fold it and press together the straight edges.

P1020864P1020865Now open it out so the open edge is at the top and fill with the spiced potato and peas, then dampen the open edges and pinch together carefully.

P1020866P1020867P1020868Repeat this many times, getting into a gentle, contemplative rhythm, until you have tons of samosas looking like this.

P1020869Now, simply fry them in very hot oil, a few at a time so the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop, probably about one minute each side, then remove onto kitchen towel.

Serve piping hot with mango salsa  finely chop one green mango, and mix with half a chopped red chilli, a one inch cube of finely chopped fresh ginger, mint or coriander leaves, a little salt, about a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of one lime.  Then fry a tablespoon of black  mustard seed in a tablespoon of oil with some more chopped chilli for about 30 seconds, then pour over the salsa.

Hope you enjoy them!.