Mum’s Mashed Coriander

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Sort of like a pesto, but with coriander and much spicier… I think a Bengali home-food specialty (sort of like casalinga food in Sicily/Italy), not something found in restaurants so much.

Very simple – take a bunch of coriander leaves, ideally fresh and healthy green-looking (ie not what I get in the market at the moment) and trimmed of any stalk or root, ¼ clove of garlic, 3-4 green chilis chopped, mash the whole lot in a mortar and pestle, or a food processor.

Add juice of ¼ lime, salt and sugar to taste, and a little mustard oil. Note: mustard oil theoretically is found at most Asian/Indian stores, however, they tend to be in bottles that say “External Use Only”. Please check with your shop before putting in food, these may be too strong/toxic.

Mix the lot, maybe add a little water if it’s too dry.

Serve with boiled rice. Can be used to jazz up a dahl, chicken curry, etc. but is absolutely glorious simply with rice, if you have fresh ingredients.

Mum’s Chicken Curry

This is basically what my mum invented as a curry, so while it’s Bengali-influenced, it’s not a dogmatic rendition of a particular regional recipe.

Sized for 3 chicken breasts. I tend to use free-range so the things do have some texture, in which case I chop them into thumb-tip sized chunks. If using supermarket chicken, mince it coarsely.

Remove skin, wash in cold water to remove hormones, chemicals, etc.

Marinate:

¼ tsp salt, ½ tsp turmeric, 1 tbsp yoghurt, ½ tsp cayenne pepper, 4 cloves pounded garlic, 1 tsp grated ginger, ½ medium red onion grated. Pound the last 3 items into a paste. Mix all together, and coat the chicken. Marinate for 2 hours in frigo.

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Cook it:

Heat in a large heavy pan, 1 tbsp oil (I use EVOO, but you can probably get more temperature with veg oil). Chuck in 2 dried chilis, fry til dark.

NB: see variations, I use potatoes
NB: see variations, I use potatoes

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Add 1 onion, chopped finely, let soften until golden. Adjust heat to avoid burning.

Turn up heat to high, move onion to a side of the pan, and put in the chicken (not any juices from the marinade) onto the bit of the pan that is hottest. Don’t touch it for a minute or so. Get the chicken to brown all over, then add marinade and 1/8 tsp sugar (I use a little balsamic vinegar). Use marinade (or a little water if there’s not enough) to deglaze the pan. Add ½ tsp ground cumin seeds. Heat to medium.

NB: see variations, I use lamb spices with chicken
NB: see variations, I use lamb spices with chicken

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Cover until gravy has reduced. Add 1 tea-cup of water, and let the chicken cook. The flavours will eventually meld, losing the turmeric rawness. It’s done at that point. Add 2-3 chopped up green chilis, 1 tomato quartered.

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Take it off the heat, and add some coriander leaves.

Serve with rice & lime on the side.

Variations:

I use mum’s spice mix in the marinade, see other posts

I add potatoes when the onions go in, and cook until the potatoes are done. Ideally they brown a little.

I tend to use the lamb variation (ie what one would do with ground lamb rather than chicken). When the onions fry, I add a pinkie-tip sliver of cinnamon, 1 green cardamom pod whole, 2 cloves whole, lots of grated ginger, ½ bay leaf, and 2-3 black peppercorns. I find this gives it that exotic, smoky, northwest Indian flavour that is perhaps a bit more complex than the recipe above. The lamb version is pretty awesome, incidentally, best to ask for lean leg meat.

To drink:

The usual – Riesling or similar aromatic white; Pinot Noir should work in red; I found Gamay, of the natural wine/funky variety isn’t too bad; I guess, but haven’t checked, Lambrusco should work.

Aubergine with dried shrimp

Aubergine with dried shrimp in Bengali style
Aubergine with dried shrimp in Bengali style
The dried shrimp I used - think they are inferior to the orange, slightly larger ones.
The dried shrimp I used – think they are inferior to the orange, slightly larger ones.

This is a great dish for those never-ending grey, cold January days, when one has a slight sick on, and leftover soup just won’t cut it. In short, London today…

I made it loosely according to my mum’s recipe, using aubergines, but it can also be done with pumpkin, or the calabash gourd (called lau/dudhi, in Bengali/Hindi respectively, or hulu/huzi in Mandarin). The dried shrimps can be found at any Asian store, but there are varieties – the ones I had were somewhat less stanky than the orange/red ones mum uses; also the latter have more texture (crunch crunch as you bite through the tiny critters’ shells…delicious). The basic idea is to salt, spice, and texturise a somewhat sweet and soft vegetable.

Anyway:

Cut up 1 medium aubergine into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with ½ tsp of turmeric powder, ¼ tsp of ground cayenne powder, 1/8 tsp of salt, mix and set aside for 20 minutes. Soak some dried shrimp (maybe first time don’t use too much – 2 tbsp?) in a little water for 20 min.

Heat EVOO a bit (not to smoking), and put in ¼ tsp cumin seeds, 2-3 dried chili peppers, and a chopped up onion. Get the onion soft but not brown (regulate heat down if needed). I put in a couple of crushed garlic cloves once the onions are softening up.

Put in the aubergine pieces, ¼ tsp of turmeric powder, and ¼ tsp of cayenne. Depending on the power of your shrimp, and your taste, may add some more salt. Put in ½ tsp of ground cumin powder. Lots of grated ginger (say equivalent to a 3cm piece, stripped of its skin).

You shouldn’t have to add water, unless it’s evident the mixture is burning (which may be the case if the aubergines don’t naturally give off water, though they should). In this case, add 1-2 tbsp of water, at a time, and scrape any burnt bits off the bottom of the pan. When the aubergines are tasting half-done, drop in the dried shrimp, and mix in. Let cook until the aubergines are done. May need to add some sugar. Add 1 tomato, chopped up.

Just before taking off the heat, add green chili and chopped coriander.

Note:

There are alternative versions on the internet that have

the shrimp go in first, mix and cook t

ogether with whatever spices/onion/ginger (or soy sauce in the Chinese/Thai versions), followed by the aubergine/calabash/vegetable. I haven’t tried this approach so not sure if it’s equivalent to above.

Too much water is death to this dish – the aubergines become mealy and water-logged. Extra oil, conversely and unsurprisingly, helps the dish taste better (an eggplant loves to fry).

Cod cheeks in Goan curry

Goan cod cheek curry on rice. With an artfully placed bit of cavolo nero !
Goan cod cheek curry on rice. With an artfully placed bit of cavolo nero !

5 delicious weeks of polenta, risotto, meat, cream, butter, nary a green chili in sight…I finally lost it today, and resolved to spice up my cuisine. The fishmongers had some cod cheeks, fantastic at £2.68 for 200g (a big one-person portion), and a lot easier to prepare than monkfish cheeks (which have a tricky little membrane that needs removing).

Fish curries are splendid – they bring all the flavours of India together, particularly the lovely south, but with a lot less frying or grease than anything on Brick Lane, or almost any other restaurant. They evoke the exotic Orient, make your nose run, make you sweat out those mid-January bugblues, and long for a warm beach, surf, and Tevas.

This recipe is taken from, but adjusted to my taste (I don’t love coconut milk, but do like tamarind), a Guardian article on fish curries, sort of a taxonomy of the recipe: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/mar/29/how-to-cook-perfect-goan-fish-curry

Sized for 600g of fish

Marinade: (Optional) marinate your fish in a little yoghurt, turmeric, powdered red chili, and lime. I find this makes sense for fish like cod cheeks, which are somewhat flavourless.

Masala base:

Chuck 1tsp cloves, 1tbsp coriander seeds, 1tsp cumin seeds, 8 dried chilis, 2 star anise into a dry pan and toast them until aromatic. Pulverise in a food processor or (as in India) use a grinding stone/mortar & pestle. The latter is more fun, but make sure you get a powder – star anise hulls will send you to the dentist.

Mix the powdered spices with ½ tsp turmeric, 1tbsp palm sugar, 1tsp salt, 5 garlic cloves (crushed), 3cm ginger root (grated), 1.5tbps white vinegar. Set this paste aside.

Make the sauce:

Fry 1 onion, finely chopped, in olive oil over medium heat, until soft/golden (not burnt), then throw in masala paste. Stir constantly, until you get the lovely scent – don’t let anything burn. Put in 1 large grated tomato (I used yesterday’s leftover tomato sauce studded with mushrooms because “fresh” Dutch hothouse tomatoes are shite….this is a pretty forgiving recipe). Cook until most of liquid is gone.

Put in 1-2 teacups of water, some grated coconut (or coconut milk), a couple of fresh green chilis, slit lengthwise, and simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened a bit. I put in a little tamarind pulp (can get this at many Asian groceries), which I soak a few minutes ahead of time in hot water, and remove the pits from (again, tamarind pits = dentist). If there’s too much sauce, then reduce; conversely if too little, add a little water.

Put in the cod cheeks and cook for a few minutes until done.

Make the tadka:

Heat up some oil (probably veg oil is better than OO, due to higher burn point), put in ½ tsp mustard seeds, and 10 curry leaves, and fry until the seeds pop. Drop oil, seeds & leaves into the curry.

Boil rice & serve the whole lot with limes and coriander leaves

Wine:

Should be very spicy, doubt much will go – but could try a Riesling or Pinot Noir. Gamay might work. Beer is indicated, maybe a floral weissbier.