Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My Indian Vegetable Curry

I've called this post "My Indian Vegetable Curry" because yes, it is a recipe for vegetable curry, but it's my take on curry. Though they're not hard and fast, there still exist some unwritten rules to curry making in each region of India, rules particular to each region and general rules that apply to all Indian curries. These have mainly come to my knowledge through trying different kinds of curries and (inevitably, considering I come from a proud Gujarati family who think Gujarati cuisine is the supreme of all those in India) a little hear say. The Punjabi's cook with cream and ghee (clarified butter) and tend to flavour their food more heavy handedly than say Gujarati's, who prefer milder, more delicately flavoured curry with thoroughly cooked vegetables (some might say over cooked). Rajasthani cuisine is rich and uses a lot of wheat compared to South Indian food which prefers rice as its carbohydrate and is big on coconut milk. The array of curries available across India is astounding. And of course within each region there are even more variations. For my curry invention, I have taken elements from a variety of curries which I enjoy and probably broke the rules in all regions as a result! 

I started out by ignoring my Gujarati roots, heading straight for the pungent flavours of onion, garlic and ginger. I then indulged myself further in a tablespoon of rich ghee. One thing all curries have in common is the tempering process. This is when the cooking fat is permeated with the flavour of spices; it also takes the harshness away from the spices, bringing them together into a singular, deep and rounded taste. It was at this tempering stage that I decided, this curry was going to be mellow. A slow cooker.
The next step in my curry revolution was the combination of spices I used. With no rule book to constrain me, the spice cupboard was my oyster. Immediately drawn to cinnamon (I think I am in a decidedly Christmas mood these days) my head said warm and rounded, mellow is after all my motto. Nutmeg, star anise and cardamom followed suit. So far, super unconventional... but stick with me! If this was going to be a proper curry it had to involve heat in some way, but fiery heat and mellow do not match. As an alternative to hot heat, black pepper and peppercorns offer a gentle nudge where a chilli would give a karate style kick. And then the usual mix of tumeric, cumin and coriander joined the party. 

This whole process was the basis for my curry sauce, as I like the idea of making a curry sauce separately to the vegetables that will eventually go in it. To finish the sauce all that was needed was some whizzed up tomatoes, and then I whacked the whole lot in a blender. This is a brilliant technique, as now the sauce is ready to douse anything you wish; vegetables, rice, meat, whatever takes your fancy! My goal being a vegetable curry, the sauce was used to coat and enrich a vegetable medley of potato, carrot and courgette which had been steamed gently until cooked.

Though at first glance it might not seem it, this curry recipe really works. The slow cooking technique is what makes this curry mellow, all the flavours mingle slowly and eventually mesh into one rounded taste. The spices I've used are warming and gentle, great for those who don't like heat of chilli but love the layers of flavour in curries. 

Here's the details of this recipe:  

1/2 tsp tumeric powder

1 tsp coriander and cumin powder
a pinch of cumin
a pinch of black pepper 
a pinch of cardamom
a pinch of nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole black peppercorns
1 star anise
2 medium white onion, sliced thinly
1 inch ginger piece, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled whole
2 tomatoes, skinned and whizzed into liquid
1 tbsp ghee

Cook the onion, garlic and ginger in the ghee on a low to medium heat, with the cinnamon sticks, star anise and black peppercorns. Let this cook slowly for 15 to 20 minutes with a tbsp of salt until everything is softened but not brown. Add the rest of the dry spices and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Finally add the liquid tomatoes and season with salt again, about 1 tbsp should be enough. Cook gently for a further 10 minutes. Finish with a squeeze of lemon, then remove the stare anise and blend in liquidizer. Return to the heat and this is the point to check the seasoning with a quick taste. Add a tbsp of yoghurt to finish off when serving. Delicious!

To make the vegetable curry (feeds about 4 to 6):

2 medium potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 courgette, cut into 1 inch pieces
a large handful of spinach

Simply, steam the veg until cooked. The carrots and potato will take about 10 minutes, the courgette 5 and the spinach will only take a minute to wilt down. Once cooked simply mix with the curry sauce.

My carbohydrate of choice comes form the South in the form of rice, but feel free to serve with whatever takes your fancy!

Until next time...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Apple Fudge (yes, FUDGE!) Cake

Browsing the net, I was immediately drawn to this recipe. It's ingredients ticks all the boxes for a delicious, warm, comforting treat. Apple, tick. Fudge, tick, tick. And a blend of those warm, comforting Christmas spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg etc.) tick times at least ten!

Sometimes baking can be a right faff. Measuring, weighing, endless mixing, following a recipe to the letter but never really knowing how it's going to turn out until an hour later at which point you realise you've forgotten to add something and it comes out all wrong! That's definitely happened to me in the past. But on the other hand, the measuring, weighing, recipe following and so forth can be really therapeutic. Especially after a day when your brain has been in overdrive; last minute essays, a stressful week at work or the like. There's something paradoxically relaxing about blindly following instructions and monotonously mixing that can take your mind away from daily stresses. Granted you can never get away from the fact that you won't really know how its going to turn out until an hour or so later, but if you're baking a cake, you are guaranteed it's, at the very least, going to be hot and sweet, which ain't half bad!

This simple recipe offers even more guarantee than just hot and sweet: you get sticky and caramelised from the apples and fudge,  and the alluring scent of warming Christmas spices wafting through the house the minute the cake goes into the oven. Not to mention the left over fudge to nibble on whilst clearing up (and I most certainly did!). So if you've had one of those days, this recipe's worth giving a go. 

So here's how to make delicious Apple and Fudge cake:

100g (about 1) apples peeled and cored

150g soft fudge (plus a little more to nibble on)
1tbsp mixed allspice (found in most supermarkets ready mixed, or make you own by mixing equal quantities of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves)
1tsp cinnamon
175g unsalted butter, at room temp (or blasted in the microwave until soft)
150g soft brown suger
2 eggs
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
You will also need an 8" round baking tin or equivalent other shape, well greased and lined with baking parchment.

Start by slicing half the apple, and chopping the remaining half into small cubes. Chop the fudge into small cubes too cover the bottom of your baking tin with the sliced apples and half the cubed fudge. Toss the remaining apple in the allspice and cinnamon powders until all the apple pieces are well coated.
Now sprinkle half the spice coated apples into the tin on top of the layer of sliced apple and fudge. 
Next, cream the butter and sugar. I use a cake mixer but you can easily do this by hand. Once the butter and sugar are well combined add the eggs. I would crack the eggs into a separate bowl first (in case you get any shell debris which can be fished out using another, bigger piece of shell) and whisk them a little using a fork. This will make it easier to combine with the butter and sugar. 
Now add in the flour and baking powder. The mix will seem really thick but this is how it's meant to be as once the apple and fudge cook they will release a lot of moisture. 
Finally fold in the last of your cubed fudge and spice coated apple, then the mixture is ready for the tin.
Bake the cake in a pre heated oven for about an hour at 180 degrees. 

Once the cake is cooked through (check this by inserting a knife or skewer into the centre of the cake, it should come out clean but maybe a little sticky at the end because of the apple on the bottom), turn out onto a wire rack to cool. I think this cake is best enjoyed warm with some clotted cream or ice cream on the side. Delicious!

Until next time...