On a recent trip to India we travelled right into the central province of Madhya Pradesh to try to catch a glimpse of the famous Bengali tiger before it disappears entirely. It was quite a mission – A flight from Mumbai to Nagpur, followed by a two hour jeep drive to Baghvan, a cc Africa game lodge on the edge of Pench National Park.
On the day of our arrival all the Indian newspapers carried headlines berating the government for exaggerating tiger numbers. The latest Wildlife Survey of India indicated that numbers are less than 50% of the last survey. This didn’t augur well for our chances yet every morning we struggled out of bed before dawn full of anticipation. We were picked up by a game warden and driven in an open jeep through the jungle tracks for 3-4 hours, our eyes peeled, ears pricked to pick up alarm calls. We saw lots of spotted deer, langur monkeys, black buck, sambar, jackal, a herd of gaur and even a jungle cat, but not a whiff of a tiger or leopard. The nearest we came to it were several sightings of fresh pok marks. Nonetheless there were compensations, the food at the Baghvan Game lodge was delicious. Virtually every hotel and household in India makes homemade curd. At Baghvan they serve it for breakfast in glasses with fresh pomegranate seeds and syrup on top. Slices of ripe papaya embellished with coriander sugar, fresh pineapple was served with a perky chilli syrup.
There’s also a crunchy muesli made with cashew nuts, honey and sesame seeds, jugs of fresh orange or sweet lime juice. Lots of fresh fruit, the most delish muffins, and a lassi of the day. There was always an Indian speciality of course . The chef made parathas and masala, omelettes with chopped chilli, onion, tomato, coriander and cheese added to the eggs from the local village. All the other ingredients came from the organic vegetable garden in the grounds of the lodge. The gardener Sunil makes compost which grows fresh herbs and vegetables in tiny sunken beds which can be flooded to save every drop of precious water. Growing here is a real challenge, not just water shortages but one can’t rule out attacks from elephants, marauding monkeys or a hungry nocturnal porpoise.
The stuffing for the parathas varied daily, one day it was crushed fresh peas with chilli, cumin and coriander, the next a spicy mashed potato mix, the third, grated cauliflower with coriander and ginger.
They are eaten fresh off the griddle with a lime pickle which is definitely an acquired taste, but this was the most delicious I’ve tasted in India.
When we arrived in from the game trail the chef would be cooking some tasty snack in the open kitchen to tempt us. One day it was spinach pakoras, on another occasion it was paneer grilled over a lump of charcoal. There were also sweet sticky jalabas for us to nibble.
The staff spent all their time planning little treats. Every evening, guests had a new surprise, dinner by the pool in the moonlight, a barbecue under a giant neem tree, a romantic rose petal strewn table on the veranda, always delicious food, soup, a rice pilaff, a paneer dish, meat, fish or prawn curry, mixed vegetables, salad and of course daal.
Then kulfi, or gheer with pistachio nuts or a little carrot halva, which takes four or five hours of dedicated effort to make.
It was like one big house party, it is rare to have such good food even in the best hotels. I avoid hotel buffets like the plague and in fact much of the best food I’ve eaten in India has been in street stalls and dhabas and of course in multi-generational private houses where the cooking skills are still passed down from grandmother to grandchild in the time- honoured way – a tradition that is all but lost in this part of the world.
Rata who manages Baghvan was kind enough to hand write some of the recipes for me to share with you.
Baghvan Lodge is situated on the edge of Pench National Park in Central India, in the Seoni and Chhindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh. Dominated by hills, forests and valleys, this national park derives its name from the Pench river, which meanders its way through the entire stretch of the 757 km² park.
Indian Paratha Bread
These roughly triangular breads get eaten all over India. Easy to make at home, all you need is a cast iron frying pan. In India ghee is used instead of oil.
175g (6oz) sieved wholemeal flour (weigh the flour after sieving, add the bran to the remainder in the bag)
185g (6 1/2oz) plain flour plus some extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or clarified butter
200ml (7fl oz) water
Oil for frying and brushing
Put the wholemeal, white flour and salt into a bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of oil over the top. Rub the oil in with your fingertips. The mixture will resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the water and gradually mix them together to form a softish ball of dough.
Knead on a clean work surface for about 10 minutes. Rub the ball with dough with a little oil put into a bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Heat a cast iron frying pan on a medium-low flame. Knead the dough again, shape into a roll and cut into 16 equal pieces.
Basic paratha dough –as above
450g (1lb) mashed potato
2 green chillies, chopped
4 tablesp. chopped coriander
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teasp. cumin
1 teasp. grated ginger (optional)
Mix the mashed potato and other ingredients together to make a filling.
Make a batch of paratha dough as above. Roll out a ball of dough, dipping regularly in flour. Roll it into a round about 5 inches (12.5cm) diameter. Place 2 small tablespoons of potato filling on top. Pinch the edges together.
Heat a griddle or heavy iron pan. Cook dry first on the hot griddle or pan, then rub a little butter on top, turn over and cook for a minute or two. Spread a little butter on the other side. Serve with pickles and raita.
Paratha dough – as above
1 small cauliflower grated (raw)
Roasted cumin powder
Mix the ingredients for the filling together and proceed as in potato paratha.
Green Pea Paratha
Blanched green peas
Chopped green chilli
Make the filling and proceed as above.
Parathas may be reheated wrapped in tin foil in a moderate oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4, they take 5-10 minutes.
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main course
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 tablespoons coarsely grated unpeeled ginger
2 sliced red onions (medium)
1 sliced green pepper (small)
3-4 ripe tomatoes
110g (4oz) peas, fresh or frozen
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
200g (7ozs) paneer (diced into 3/4 inch dice)
2 teaspoons Chana masala – available from Asian food shops
Put 3 tablespoons of peanut oil in a kadhi or wok over a medium heat. Add the grated ginger, stir, add the sliced red onions, green pepper, tomatoes and peas. Add salt to taste and a good 1/2 teaspoon turmeric. Finally add the diced paneer. Stir and allow to cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of chana masala. Stir and cook for 4-5 minutes. Taste and serve with chapatti, naan or parathas.
Cabbage Thoran (Kerela) Fogath (Karnataka) Poriyal (Tamilnadu)
I first came across this dish in Kerela but was interested to find it is also a much loved dish in Bengal.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
a pinch of freshly ground cumin (jeera)
a pinch of turmeric powder
15 curry leaves, fresh or frozen
2 dry red chillies
200g (7ozs) grated fresh coconut
1 cabbage, washed and finely chopped/diced
Heat the oil in a wok or sauté pan to smoking point. Add the mustard seeds, cumin (jeera), turmeric, curry leaves, chilli. Stir, add the coconut and cabbage and continue to stir-fry on a low heat (fire). Cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes or until cooked. Taste and correct seasoning.
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
20g (3/4 oz) crushed garlic
2-3 green chillies, thinly sliced
10-15g (1/2 oz) mango ginger or ordinary fresh ginger, peeled and grated
500g (18ozs) chopped tomato
2-3 bay leaves
salt to taste
Put oil into a wok, heat, add the mustard seed, garlic, chilli, ginger and chopped tomatoes and bay leaf. Cover and cook for 10 minutes stir every now and then. Add salt and sugar. Taste and add fresh coriander.
Masala Baby Corn
1 tablesp. vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin (jeera)
50g (2ozs) onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ginger, chopped
1/4 teaspoon green chilli, chopped
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
salt to taste
100g (3 1/2 ozs) tomato, chopped
300g (11ozs) baby corn, diced
a pinch of garam masala
1/2 teaspoon green coriander, chopped
Heat the oil in a pan, add the cumin (jeera) and fry until it crackles and add the onion and ginger. Fry until golden brown and add the chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric and salt. Cook for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and baby corn, cover and cook for a few minutes. Add a pinch of garam masala. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve hot.
Enjoy A Taste of India with Darina Allen on Wednesday 17th September 2008
Cork City has at last recognised the importance of the great tradition of the crubeen and Katty Barry with the opening of An Crubin .A food and drink emporium with hosts Paul Lewis and Frank O Connell.
Together with An Crubin and Beamish, Cork City Slow Food Convivium is holding a traditional evening of pigs trotters,tails,ribs and cheek, with Arbutus artisan handmade breads and creamy pints of cool Beamish.
Venue An Cruibin, on Thursday April 17th, members €10, non-members €15
Slow Sausage Sunday –Sunday 27th April 2008
Wicklow Slow Food – The Garden Convivium
Venue: Rear 15A, Georges St Upper, Dún Laoghaire. Time 11.00am-14.00pm
This workshop will be aimed at children (ably assisted by an adult!). We will be making sausages from scratch, focusing on taste. The children will be mixing, filling and linking their own sausages by hand, in 1 kg batches, which they will all get to take home and cook. As this event takes place in a real sausage kitchen, it will be cold and wet! So be sure to wear nice clean wellies and warm clothes You will also need an apron and a sense of fun! Booking is essential as places are limited. Please email to confirm by 24th April. email@example.com Space at Hick’s is also limited… foldable buggies only please!
Cost: € 20.00 per child for members and €30.00 per child for non-members.
(Accompanying adults are free)
Special Offer – Any non member who joins up on the day will get to attend for free!! Annual membership is €50 per person more info on www.slowfoodireland.com