Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Starting out as a food blogger...

I'm starting my life as a foodie blogger with tales of my weekend's cooking. We had people for lunch so I decided to make a selection of Indian vegetarian dishes - saag dal (lentils with spinach), chole masala (chickpea curry), and baingan bartha (an aubergine curry), with rice and chapatis. All were yummy (except that I burned the dal on reheating it and it took on a slightly bizarre, smoky flavour. People didn't seem to notice though - or perhaps they thought that was how it was meant to taste). Most of my Indian recipes are currently coming from the "Delia" of India (according to my Indian friend) - Tarla Dalal. I bought one of her many books, apparently one of her earliest, simplest ones, called Desi Khana (Indian Food), and this also gave me 30 days free access to the recipes on the website so I've been a downloading and printing machine.
The chole recipe, though, is from the Times, by Sybil Kapoor.

Spinach Dal
Cooking Time : 25 minutes.
Preparation Time : 10 minutes.
Serves 8 (if eaten with other things - on it's own I don't think this is enough for 8 people)

6 cloves garlic
3 green chillies
25 mm. piece ginger
3/4 teacup uncooked moong dal or masoor dal (I used red lentils - masoor dal)
1 chopped onion
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teacup chopped spinach (I can't really work out how much "I teacup" of chopped spinach is, so I just use a whole bag of spinach)
2 teaspoons amchur powder (the first time I made this I didn't have any amchur (dried unripe mango) powder so I added a couple of teaspoons of tamarind paste which was also nice)
1 large chopped tomato
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 teaspoons oil
salt to taste

Put the dal in a saucepan with 3 teacups of water and bring to the boil - watch it carefully as it tends to boil over and create a mess that's hard to clean. It's ready when the dal has become yellow and fluffy and most of the water has gone.

While it cooks, blend the garlic, chillies and ginger into a paste. Chop the onion finely and fry with the cumin seeds in either a bigger saucepan or a deep frying pan (eventually the dal and all the ingredients will go in here so it needs to be big). When the onions are translucent, add the garlic/chilli/ginger paste and continue to fry for a few minutes. Add the turmeric, amchur and spinach (chop but don't worry about getting it too finely chopped as it obviously shrinks a lot), then chop the tomato and add it. Cook for a while, and then when the dal is ready add it (together with whatever water is left in the dal saucepan) to the mix. Simmer and add salt to taste.

Baingan Bartha
Cooking Time : 30 mins.
Preparation Time : 5 mins.
Serves 4.

750g of aubergine (this usually seems to be about 3)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, grated
1 teaspoon garlic, grated
1 teaspoon green chillies, finely chopped
1 or 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon coriander-cumin seed powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon ghee (I never use ghee and always fry in vegetable oil but this is a personal preference)
salt to taste

Cut the green tops off the aubergines and prick all over with a fork. Put them in the oven (on a tray to minimise oven mess) on a high heat - they will need around half an hour until they become wrinkly and quite soft. When they are done, leave to cool until you can handle them and peel the skins off. Mash the pulp (I tried this with a potato masher and it was extremely labour intensive and didn't work very well - now I just shove it in the food processor. If you don't have one you could probably use a blender too).

Fry the onions together with the cumin seeds and when translucent add the garlic, ginger and chillies. As I was making this at the same time as the spinach dal, I made more of the garlic/chilli/ginger paste and added that and I would do that again as it is much quicker. Add the chopped tomatoes and the other spices, and cook until the oil separates from the vegetables. Add the mashed aubergines, cook for a few minutes and add salt to taste.

Serves 4

250g dried chickpeas (or you can use 1 can)
2 tsp ginger, finely chopped/grated
¾ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh chilli, split at the tip
2 cloves (optional - I usually leave these out)
½ tsp garam masala
6 or 7 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Some tomato puree if you want
Handful of fresh coriander (optional, for garnish)

If you're using dried chickpeas, you need to soak them overnight, and then cook either in a pressure cooker or a saucepan until tender (around 2.5 hours in a saucepan or 45 minutes in a pressure cooker). I almost always make this with tinned chickpeas because it takes too long and too much forward planning to use dried chickpeas. With tinned chickpeas, wash them and bring them to the boil and then simmer while making the sauce. Add to the saucepan of chickpeas (whichever method is used) the grated ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric.

Make the sauce by finely chopping the onion and garlic (or blending it into a paste, which is my preferred method). Fry this with the whole chilli, split at the tip. Put the tomatoes into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Take out after one minute and slip the skins off. Finely chop the tomatoes (or food process them) and add them to the onion/garlic mix. Fry for a few minutes and then add the spices and salt as needed, and the tomato puree if used (I find that it sometimes helps to add a stronger tomato flavour, particularly as fresh tomatoes are often quite tasteless). Pour most of the water out of the chickpea saucepan and add the chickpeas and some of the water to the masala. If you add too much water, don't worry as you can just keep cooking the chole with uncovered to reduce. I think it's better to have too much water than too little as you can always reduce and the longer it cooks the better it will taste. Keep tasting and add more cayenne pepper if it's not spicy enough for you.


No recipe here - I just add equal parts white and wholewheat flour, add about a teaspoon of oil, salt and some spices (i usually go for ground cumin and/or coriander) and enough water to make a dough. Roll out into thin circles. Heat a frying pan with no oil until very hot and throw the flat circle of dough onto it. It should puff up in places. After a couple of minutes, flip it over and cook for another minute on the other side. To keep them warm and stop them from going hard while you are making the rest, put them in teacloth and store them wrapped in a warm oven.

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