India – Spice up Your Life


India keeps calling me back. Few places on earth offer the diversity of travel experiences that this intriguing country delivers – a lifetime is not long enough to know it. In the space of less than an hour one can witness hand pulled rickshaws, camel carts and ceremonial elephants, oxen ploughing the fields with bells tinkling from their gaily painted horns, side by side with brand new tractors. All manner of enterprise and activity, roadside barbers lather their customer’s chins, cross legged tailors, chapatti makers, a myriad of food stalls, sweetmeat makers, spice wallahs, blacksmiths sharpening sickles to harvest the mustard crop – all alongside glitzy malls. Nowadays, the poorest stallholder is likely to have a mobile phone. Even though economic growth has slowed considerably, much is changing.
Cows nonchalantly roam the streets in the certainty that no one will harm them
Tuc tucs, cars, cycle rickshaws, goods carriers (as lorries are called), all slow down to avoid them. Cows are sacred and revered. In the country side women in beautiful saris still work on the roads and in the brickworks, carrying heavy loads on their heads with seemingly effortless ease. For casual observers this is extraordinary but there is an order and a logic that we simply don’t understand and are best to accept as part of the experience of India. Everywhere one goes, people have a ready smile.
This time we spent a few days in Ponticherry a French Colonial town in South East India. Like Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai, it really comes to life in the early evening. A wander along the promenade before sunset is an unforgettable experience. Food stalls selling sand roasted nuts – pani puri, bell puri, samosas, ice-cream…  Kids pedalling candy floss, bubbles pipes, balloons, squeaky toys and several brass bands belting out Indian rhythms alongside the huge statue of Ghandi on the march.
I had several delicious meals, in a restaurant called Sangan, the chefs kindly shared this recipe for their homemade kiwi ice cream with me.

Rajastan in the North West is possibly the most colourful part of India. This time we avoided the tourist magnets Jodhpur and Jaipur – beautiful as they are – and ventured out into the wild and beautiful country side to stay in a couple of the Rajput families houses. Many of these noble families have restored their castles and forts in recent years to entice the growing number of tourists. We loved Castle Bijaipur about 40 kilometres from Chittorgarh. The family still live there and warmly welcome the guests. The food cooked by family retainers was quite unlike the standard hotel food; secret recipes handed down through the generations. For those who like to ride there were wonderful Marwari horses and a tented camp overlooking Pangarh Fort and Lotus Lake to relax in.
Closer to Nimaj we found another place I long to return to – called Chhattar Sagar, three grandsons of Thakur Chhatra Singh a powerful nobleman run superb tented accommodation overlooking the dam which was built in 1890 to create a large water reservoir. The vision and generosity of their great grandfather changed the dry scrub into prime agricultural land, thus providing a livelihood for the local farmers who had hitherto struggled to survive on the parched desert.
It’s also a bird lover’s paradise – over 200 birds have been recorded many in significant numbers – antelopes and blue bull, amble through the savannah below the tents. The family organise wonderful tours of the local village and farms and the food was superb, I looked forward to every meal and when I expressed an interest in learning how some of the dishes were cooked, Harsh’s wife, dressed in a beautiful embroidered sari gave me and several other guests cooking classes before dinner. The tamarind aubergine and tomato chutney recipes are from Chhattra Sagar.

Finally we returned to Udaipur to possibly my favourite hotel in the world, the Lake Palace – which was built in 1743 by Maharana Jagat Singh and was the original summer retreat of the Maharanas – is in the centre of Lake Pichola. One gets there by boat and feels like a princess when greeted by a bearer carrying a parasol to provide shade from the midday sun. Fresh limeade, marigold garlands and the perfume of jasmine scent the air. In the morning and at sunset a resident flautist plays haunting Indian music on the flute. It’s a gentle magical place. Although breakfast is delicious overall the food is not great and rarely reflects the season or the produce of the local region. Nevertheless I love it there and Udaipur offers many other restaurant options. In the old town, I chanced upon a little cooking school run by Sushma Soni and spent a very informative few hours learning more about Indian food. Sushma cooked some easy to replicate dishes.

2 litres milk
1 teaspn vinegar or lemon juice
150 – 200g (5 – 7 oz)

Boil 2 litres of milk when first boil comes, add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice and 150 – 200g (5 – 7oz) of yoghurt and stir it well, it will curdle almost immediately. Pour the mixture through a muslin lined strainer, until all the water drains out, and then put a weight over and leave it for 2 hours.

In India they use whey to make chapati dough or boil lentils for dhal

Punjabi Butter Paneer Masala

Serves 3 – 6 depending on how many dishes are served.

50g (2 oz) butter
200g (7oz) paneer
4 medium onions chopped
1 teasp chopped green chilli
½ teasp grated ginger
4 – 6 large tomatoes, peeled and pureed
6 almonds 6 cashew nuts (grind with coconut powder)
2 tablsp desiccated coconut
2 cups milk
½ teasp turmeric powder
½ teasp red chilli powder
½ teasp garam masala
salt according to taste
2 tablsp double cream

Cut the paneer into 1 inch cubes, grind chopped ginger, onions and green chilli together and fry it with butter in a kadhi (wok) until light brown, add all the spices, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, garam masala, salt according to taste.
Cook for 3 -4 minutes. Add the tomato puree, cook for a further 5 minutes, now add the double cream and crushed nuts.  Put the almonds, cashews and coconut into the grinder and puree, roast on medium heat until the butter and masala separates approximately 3 – 4 minutes. Now add the paneer pieces and add approximately two small cups of milk, cover for 5 minutes, add a pinch of garam masala and dried fenugreek leaves (methi).
Imli Baingan (Tamarind Aubergine)

Serves 6 – 8

1kg (2 ¼ lb) small aubergines cut in half, cut larger aubergines into 1 ½ inch chunks deep fried
4 onions finely chopped
5 -6 cloves garlic chopped
3 tbsp oil
3 – 5 whole red chillies
3 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp red chilli powder
salt (to taste)

Heat the oil; add whole red chillies immediately followed by the onions. Fry over a medium heat until soft, add the garlic – careful it doesn’t burn. Add the tamarind paste, brown sugar, red chilli powder and salt. Stir and cook for a minute and then add the fried aubergine, toss gently and simmer for 4 or 5 minutes. Taste to correct seasoning. Serve hot.

Tomato Chutney

Serves 6 approximately as an accompaniment to curries or roast meats.

12 large ripe tomatoes chopped
2 green chillies deseeded and cut into long pieces
4 – 6 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
1 ½ teasp grated ginger
¼ teasp black mustard seeds
¼ teasp kiraita (nigella seeds)
¼ teasp fennel seeds
3 tabsp oil
2 teasp sugar
1 teasp red chilli powder
½ teasp salt

Heat the oil in a wok. Add the black mustard seeds, kiraita and fennel seeds, stir and fry for a few seconds then add the chopped garlic. Stir once or twice more and add the tomatoes. On a high heat add the ginger paste and the red chilli powder, cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the chutney thickens and reduces, add the sugar and cook until little droplets of oil rise to the top. Finally add the salt and the green chillies, stir, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary and serve hot.

Makes about 16

Chapatis in varying sizes and thickness are eaten all over North India. If you cannot find chapati flour use sieved wholemeal. Salt is optional.
The dough should be quite soft.  The amount of water you need will vary with the type of flour and the general humidity in the air.  Use extra flour to roll out easily.
In India Chapatis are traditionally cooked on a tava, a slightly concave, circular, cast iron plate, which is heated slowly before the first chapatti is slapped on to it.  This preheating prevents the chapatti from becoming hard and brittle.  Use a heavy cast iron pan if you haven’t got a tava.

250g (9oz) sieved chapati flour or wholemeal (weigh after sieving)
170ml (6oz) water
¼ teaspoon salt, optional

Put the sieved flour in a bowl. Add the water, slowly mixing as you do so, to form a soft dough.  Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes until smooth.  Put the dough in a bowl.  Cover with cling film and leave to rest for half an hour.
If you are fortunate enough to have an Indian tava, slowly heat over a medium-low flame, alternatively use a cast iron frying pan.  When it is very hot, turn the heat to low.
Knead the dough again and form into a roll, divide in roughly 16 parts.  It should be fairly sticky, so use a little flour when handling it.
Flour your work surface, take one part of dough and roll into a ball. Press down on the ball to flatten. Roll out into a 14cm (5 ½ inch) round.  Pat off the excess of flour and then slap it on to the hot tava or frying pan.  Let it cook on low heat for about a minute.  Turn the chapati over (use your hands or a pair of tongs). Cook for about 30 seconds on the second side. Take the pan off the stove and put the chapatti directly on top of the low flame.  It should puff up in seconds. This takes courage but be brave its worth it, they deflate again in a few seconds.

Yellow Dhal Mewari Dahl Tadka

Serves 4 – 6

225g (8oz) any kind of lentil, yellow, green or white (or beans) soaked in hot water, (water to cover add ½ litre of water), for at least 1 hour

2 finely chopped onions
4 cloves garlic chopped
¼ teasp turmeric powder
¼ teasp red chilli powder
salt according to taste
¼ teasp garam masala (hot spices)
4 – 6 medium sized tomatoes chopped
½  litre (17fl oz) milk
1 ½ teasp chopped ginger or paste

Rinse the dhal 2 or 3 times

Boil the soaked lentils dhal with milk in a pressure cooker for 20 – 25 minutes or about an hour in an ordinary pan until lentils are soft. If you want it creamy and rich use milk, otherwise you use water.
Melt 3 – 4 tbls sunflower oil or ghee in a heavy saucepan, add the onions and cook on a medium heat until pale golden brown. Add the grated ginger and garlic, add spices and cook until the masala and the ghee separates 4 -5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and boil again. Now add the dhal, bring back to the boil and sprinkle some fresh coriander and a pinch of garam masala. It should be quite liquid. Cover for 2 – 3 minutes and then serve.
Garlic and ginger paste is an essential basic in Indian cooking. The garlic is usually ground first in an oval shaped pestle and mortar and then the ginger is added, then both are ground to a paste together. This mixture will last for 2 – 3 days in a fridge.
You can use this sauce for macaroni, spaghetti or for chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, vegetables or mutton.

Aloo Gobi (Potato with Cauliflower)

(No onions no garlic)
1 flower of cauliflower with little tiny florets (1/2 kg)
4 large or 4 medium size potatoes, diced ½ inch
4 tabsp cooking oil
1/3 teasp fennel seeds
¼ teasp mustard seeds
10-15 seeds of fenugreek
handful of fresh or frozen peas
¼ teasp garam masala
½ – 2 teasp chopped green chilli
2 tomatoes finely chopped
½ teasp chopped ginger
salt according to taste

Heat the oil in a pan, add all seeds when they start to pop after about a minute add the turmeric, potatoes, cauliflower, peas, garam masla and mix well. Cover for 10 minutes on a medium heat until they are soft, stir after 8 to 10 minutes then add the chopped tomatoes, ginger, chopped green chilli. Mix well, cover and leave for a few minutes. Garnish with freshly chopped coriander and serve hot.

Kiwi Fruit Ice Cream from Satsanga Restaurant in Ponticherry

Makes 8 – 10

1kg (2 ¼ lb) kiwi fruit – about 10
1/3 of 2kg (675g) icing sugar
1 litre double cream
3 – 4 kiwi fruit (garnish)
fresh mint leaves

Peel the kiwi fruit thinly and cut into four, puree the fruit in a blender, chill in a fridge.
Meanwhile whisk the cream stiffly, add the icing sugar and mix well. Fold evenly into the chilled kiwi puree and turn into an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Alternatively pour into a plastic box cover and freeze.
Serve on chilled plates alone or with a wedge or two of kiwi and some fresh mint leaves.

Fool Proof Food

Sweet Lassi

50ml (2fl oz) best quality natural yoghurt
175ml (6fl oz) ice and water
1/2- 1 tabsp caster sugar
1/8–1/4 teasp rose water or kewra
rose petals, optional
Whizz all the ingredients including the ice in a blender. Pour into chilled glasses and serve immediately.  Scatter with rose petals.

Hot Tips

Steak sandwiches for lunch at Mahon Point Farmers Market

Gar Granville from Cobh serves steak sandwiches from his stall at Mahon Point Farmers Market every Thursday. These are truly delicious – beef that has been hung for four weeks, slathered with freshly picked horseradish sauce and homemade mayonnaise served on an Ockham bap, hot out of the oven from the bakery in Ballycotton that morning for €6:50

Vegetable Growing Workshop

Two hour hands on workshop on growing vegetables will be held every Saturday afternoon at 2:00pm, beginning 10th March. Course content; soil preparation, sowing, planting – potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, peas and beans. Cost €25.00 per week. Barrie’s Nurseries +353 86 814 1133
Sarah Raven comes to Ireland

Sarah Raven, well known writer, cook, broadcaster and teacher, is the expert on all things to grow, cut and eat from your garden. She will be teaching two one day gardening classes in April at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. ‘The Cutting Garden’ Thursday 16th April 9:30am to 5:00pm ‘Year Round Vegetables’, Friday 17th April 9:30am to 5:00pm. Booking essential 021 4646 785.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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