East Indian Cooking

May 11, 2015 Updated: May 11, 2015

The interest in India and its cuisine is growing all the time. Because many Indians are strict vegetarians, a delicious panoply of spiced vegetable dishes and main course dishes made with pulses such as lentils, kidney beans, or chickpeas has resulted. Curries, of course, are known around the world.

The English word for curry comes from the Hindi turcarri, meaning sauce, and is used to describe any sort of Indian stew in which poultry, meats, eggs, cheese, or vegetables are simmered with spices. The selection and proportion of spices varies with the region and family preferences. In the south, vinegar and mustard oil are used in curry preparation—an excellent preservative in the hot climate—while in the north, Koorma curries usually include yoghurt and are not as heavily spiced. Curries are usually served with pickles, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, chutneys, and crisp breads.

Koorma Curry

• 2 1 1/2 kg (3-lb) frying chickens, or 1 kg (2 1/2 lbs) stewing lamb or beef, cut into cubes, or 12 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half, or (2 1/2 lbs) any cooked or raw vegetable cut into serving pieces
• 2 onions, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2.5 cm (1-inch) piece ginger root
• 5 ml (1 tsp) each black pepper, cumin and mustard powder
• 1 ml (1/4 tsp) each (optional) cloves, cinnamon and coriander
• 10 ml (2 tsp) poppy seeds
• 50 ml (1/4 cup) ghee (recipe below)
• 750 ml (3 cups) yoghurt
• Salt
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) dried unsweetened coconut (optional)

Mix onion, garlic, and spices including poppy seeds and marinate the chicken, meat, eggs or vegetables in the mixture for half an hour. Heat the ghee and fry the curried pieces for five minutes, stirring often. Add the yoghurt, then cover and simmer gently until done. Do not add liquid. Shake the pan to prevent scorching. Season with salt and sprinkle with coconut. Serves 6

Ghee

Melt the required amount of unsalted butter very slowly in a pan to separate the oil from the white residue. Let stand, and then strain carefully. Cool and pour into a glass jar.

Eggplant Curry

500 g (1 lb) eggplant
40 ml (3 tbsp) oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
15 ml (1 tbsp) coriander leaves, minced
1-2 green chilies, chopped
2 ml (1/2 tsp) turmeric
2 ml (1/2 tsp) chili powder
15 ml (3 tsp) ground coriander
Salt to taste

Prick the eggplants and put under a pre-heated grill or broiler for around 15 minutes, turning often until the skin turns black and the flesh is soft. Peel the skin off and mash the flesh. Heat the oil over medium heat and fry the onions until soft. Add the tomatoes, coriander leaves and green chilies and fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mashed eggplant, turmeric, chili powder and salt. Stir. Fry for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with chappatis (bread).

Barfi, Indian Milk Sweet

Makes 2 dozen

• 175 ml (3/4 cup) sugar
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) rosewater
• 250 ml (1 cup) powdered milk, sifted
• 5 ml (1 tsp) powdered cardamom
• 125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped pistachio nuts (unsalted)
• Green food colouring (optional)

Boil the sugar and 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) water until it spins a thread. Add rosewater and milk. Stir until thickened. Cook on low heat, stirring, for around three minutes or until very thick. Stir in the cardamom and pistachios and food colouring if using. Pour into a 23 x 23 cm (9 x 9-inch) well-buttered pan and cool. Cut into pieces and serve as cookies.

Fish In Banana Leaf

(Courtesy Rita Kapadia)
Makes 6 servings

• 1 kg (2 lbs) fish fillets
• 1 banana leaf * or parchment paper
• Half a fresh coconut, grated
• 1 tsp cumin powder
• 1.5 cm (1/4-inch) piece of ginger
• 1 green chili
• 15 ml (3 tsp) lemon juice
• 10 ml (2 tsp) sugar
• Salt to taste
• 1 bunch fresh coriander leaves
• Cooking oil

Wash and clean the fish. Soak in the lemon juice and salt for one hour. Wash and drain. Cut into 10 cm (4-inch) pieces. Grind all the other ingredients (except the banana leaf) into a paste. Apply liberally to the fish.

Remove the centre vein of the banana leaf. Cut the leaf into pieces big enough to wrap the fish fillets. Rub oil on the right side of the leaf and heat for a few seconds. This will keep the leaf from tearing.

Wrap each fish piece separately in the banana leaf and tie securely with string. Place the packets in a single layer in a frying pan. Pour in enough oil to cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. Cut the string and arrange packets on a platter and serve with basmati rice.

*Available in TNT supermarket

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com