Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tasty, fresh Indian Cuisine

Indian plate

How can it be that each week I come away from our cooking class and think “that was my favourite so far”? We eat Indian food regularly as it ticks all the boxes of gluten free, tasty and nutritious. The fact that you can add your own spice by the way of chutneys and pickles is also handy when you’re cooking for children.

Cooking a big batch of DHAL is not only easy but saves time in the kitchen. The recipe freezes really well and with some basmati rice and a quick salad of cucumber, onion and tomato makes for a quick midweek meal. Add some hard boiled eggs, RAITA and pappadums and everyone is happy!

I use frozen chopped spinach in my PALAK PANEER recipe. If you have plenty of fresh spinach available and the time to wash and chop it feel free to use that instead. Paneer is a fresh curd cheese made with lemon juice as a curdling agent, perfect for vegetarians as it doesn’t contain any animal rennet. The texture is a between a solid ricotta and haloumi. You’ll notice this recipe is much fresher and lighter than the dishes you are served in a restaurant where it is often dressed with extra clarified butter, cream or pureed paneer to make it richer and more satisfying.

My favourite movie is Bend it Like Beckham and whenever I make ALOO GOBI I’m reminded of the line “Anyone can cook Aloo Ghobi, but who can bend it like Beckham?”. It really is a simple dish if you follow some rules, just like soccer! Use a wide, heavy based pot with a tight fitting lid and taste the dish and adjust the seasoning before you serve it. You probably do that anyway…

Two side dishes that pair well with this meal are the tangy KACHUMBER and cooling RAITA.

For dessert we made delicious CARROT HALVA. A strange concept if you’ve never eaten carrot for dessert before but you’ll be a convert for this luscious sweet pudding once you’ve tried it. If you’ve read Madhur Jaffrey’s Climbing the Mango Trees you’ll know this is a very comforting dish similar to rice pudding.

Like I said earlier a very tasty lesson, here are the recipes. Enjoy!

Dhal pot


This Indian “stew” can be prepared with lentils, split peas or chick peas but a combination provides a wider range of nutrients and variety in texture.

Serves: 8 (as part of a meal)

Preparation: 10 minutes (yellow split peas and dry chick peas require soaking)

Cooking Time: 40 minutes


knife, chopping board, garlic press, large saucepan, measuring cup, wooden spoon, small bowl for rubbish, mortar and pestle to crush whole spices, fine grater for ginger.


1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated

¼ cup olive oil

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

1teaspoon coriander seeds

1teaspoon cumin seeds

5 cardamom pods (green/ black)

1teaspoon turmeric powder

Fresh or dried chilli flakes to taste

Salt and pepper

1cup yellow split peas (channa dhal), soaked overnight

1cup red lentils

1 tin chick peas (or 1 ½ cups cooked chick peas)

1 tin chopped tomatoes (or 4 fresh chopped tomatoes)

3 litres Vegetable stock or water

To serve:

¼ cup coriander, chopped

1 lemon, juiced


1. Gently fry onion and garlic in oil in a large pot. Add grated ginger.

2. Pound the spices in a mortar and pestle or with a heavy knife and add to the pot.

3. Fry spices gently to release their aromas, if they catch on the pan add a little water.

4. Add tomatoes, stock and lentils/ split peas/ chick peas.

5. Cook gently for 30 minutes or until all pulses are soft. Stir occasionally.

6. Just before serving stir through chopped coriander and lemon juice.

Serve with: steamed basmati rice, naan or roti bread to soak up the juices.

This recipe freezes very well without the coriander and lemon juice.

It recipe can also be thinned with more stock to a soupy consistency.

palak paneer


A mild spinach and Indian cheese dish.

Serves: 6 (as part of a meal)

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes


knife, chopping board, wok or large saucepan, measuring spoons, wooden spoon, , small bowl for rubbish, garlic press, grater, mortar and pestle or food processor.


350 grams Paneer (Indian cottage cheese) cut into 2 cm cubes

½ cup Oil for frying

500 grams spinach, chopped and frozen

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1” piece fresh ginger, finely grated

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 green chilli, chopped (optional)

½ cup water

Salt and Pepper to taste


1.Shallow fry cubes of paneer in oil till slightly golden, drain and set aside.

2.Pound the coriander and cumin seeds together till well crushed

3.Gently fry onion and garlic till translucent, add spices and chilli and fry gently 1 min.

4.Add spinach and water. Cook till wilted/ defrosted. Don’t cover spinach.

5.Place in a food processor and blend till combined (optional)

6.Return to pan, check seasonings, add salt or pepper to taste

7.Add paneer cubes, warm through and serve.

Variations: Restaurants sometimes add ghee/ butter/ cream to palak paneer to make it creamier. Alternatively you can add a paste of roasted cashew nuts.

Another alternative is to add chopped tomatoes.


If you are making various Indian dishes it may be faster to mince all the ginger and garlic in batches in the food processor, leftovers will freeze well. Likewise chop up all the onion at the same time.

aloo gobi


A popular Punjabi “dry” curry of potatoes and cauliflower.

Serves: 6 (as part of a meal)

Preparation: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes


knife, chopping board, garlic press, large saucepan with lid, mortar and pestle, wooden spoon, small bowl for rubbish, plates and spoons for service.


½ cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon ginger, finely minced or chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

½ bunch coriander; stems chopped for frying, leaves for garnish

1 teaspoon salt

1 small green chilli, de-seeded and chopped

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets c.5cm

3 potatoes, washed and cut into c.3cm cubes


1. Gently fry onion in oil till translucent.

2. Add garlic, ginger, coriander stems and all the spices and gently cook for 1 minute

3. Add the chilli and the potato, cook for 5 minutes letting it catch a little on the base to brown the potatoes.

4. Add the cauliflower and stir gently for 5 minutes. Put a lid on the pot.

5. Cook, covered on a low heat for 15mins. Occasionally check the bottom isn’t burning; add a little water to prevent this.

6. The dish is cooked when a potatoes are cooked through, it should be dry and slightly coloured. Garnish with coriander leaves.

Serving suggestions: This dish is best served alongside a wet curry and rice or as a filling for Indian breads.

Each family has their own preferences and can alter the level of spice, add tinned tomatoes for more “gravy” or use paprika instead of chilli.



A cool yoghurt and cucumber side dish to serve with curry.

Serves: 6 (as part of a meal)

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 0


knife, chopping board, bowl, measuring cup, wooden spoon, small bowl for rubbish.


2 cup Greek or low fat plain yoghurt

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 cucumber, deseeded and grated

1 ½ tablespoons mint leaves, chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste


1. Gently roast cumin seeds in a dry pan, set aside to cool.

2. Mix all ingredients together and adjust seasoning to taste.

3. Chill till ready to serve.



A tangy fresh salad to accompany a rich spicy curry.

Serves: 6 (as part of a meal)

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 0


knife, chopping board, bowl, measuring cup, wooden spoon, small bowl for rubbish.


2 ripe tomatoes, finely diced

1 cucumber, seeded and finely diced

½ white onion, finely diced

1 green chilli, finely chopped (optional or add more to taste)

1 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice


1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and chill.

 Cooking Carrot Halvacarrot halva

GAJJAR KA HALVA (carrot halva)

This is a very rich dessert traditionally served at celebrations.

Serves: 8

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 minutes


Large wide based shallow pan, grater, wooden spoon, measuring cup, measuring spoons


1 kilo carrots, grated (preferably a thicker width)

5 cups full cream milk

6 cardamom pods, pounded to crack the casing

30 grams butter

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

½ cup sultanas or raisins

½ cup flaked almonds

To garnish:

Chopped almonds, sultanas and unsalted pistachios


1. Melt the butter in the large pan

2.Add the grated carrot and stir

3.Add the milk and cardamom pods

4.Simmer over a medium heat for around 20 minutes stirring frequently so it doesn’t “catch”

5.When the milk has almost evaporated add the sugar, sultanas and almonds

6.Stir well for a further 5 minutes till mixture begins to clump together

7.Add the tablespoon of golden syrup and cook again till mixture is dry.

8.Finished halva is a lumpy, bright orange dry mix

To serve warm: place a couple spoonfuls into bowls and serve with a little sprinkle of nuts and sultanas

To serve chilled: place into a greased mould and refrigerate till needed.

Alternatively: smooth mixture onto a flat dish and decorate the top before serving

NOTES: This is an amended recipe. Traditional halva has much more fat often incorporating up to 200 grams butter, cottage cheese and oil into this recipe! The original recipe also calls for much more sugar. I find that this recipe is sweet and rich enough for Australian palates. If you would like a richer dessert serve a scoop of vanilla ice cream along with chilled halva.

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