A cowardly cook’s CURRY first

2013-08-15 00:00

I LOVE curry. But I had never made one until last week. The exotic spices were just too intimidating for a cowardly cook like me. I consider myself a two-minute noodle specialist and am very good at taking short cuts.

I love eating, but am not so good at doing the actual cooking. I do have three Indian cook books at home, but they decorate my book shelf and entice my imagination.

I have always preferred to eat curry made by the hands of those experts who were raised at the stoves of ebony-haired moms wearing saris, balancing babies and stirring simmering, fragrant pots.

Coming to KwaZulu-Natal was certainly a journey in the curry stakes as I was reintroduced to those tempting curry flavours that I adored when I was a student in Durban.

Of course I ate curry in Jozi, but there you are wooed into eating everything else the multicultural province has to offer — Portuguese, Greek, Chinese, French.

When I was invited to a cooking demonstration at the Good Food and Wine Show with Anjali Pathak, a leading name in the spice world, I was undeniably nervous.

My mother’s curry (how can I say this politely) was a beef stew with a dollop of curry powder. The English don’t understand curry — it’s just not the same.

While at technikon, I spent half of my pocket money on rotis and samosas and … oh-to- die-for biryani on a Friday. I have tried all types of curry and my taste buds have decided they can handle curries that are spicy but not nuclear-bomb hot. Maybe, in time, my taste buds will acclimatise culturally.

Pathak — one of the celebrity chefs at the food show — assured me that the chickpea curry (channa masala) would be tasty and spicy.

We were ably assisted by trainee chefs from the Durban Capsicum chef school, who had done all the hard work. They had measured and chopped all the ingredients, and all we had to do was listen, mix and stir. My assistant, Jashalin Moopanar, was helpful and saved me from near disaster.

Within minutes, the tantalising flavours were seeping into the air, mustard seeds were popping. I was pleasantly surprised that the actual cooking was not that difficult — it was the careful combination of flavours that made the recipe work. Soaking the chickpeas in advance saves cooking time.

Adding water at the right time makes the curry moist, but one must make sure the flavours have been sealed in first. Pathak gave us novices a lesson in cooking rice. I have cooked rice myriad times before, but never has my rice been so fluffy and perfect, and done so quickly. Moopanar said the water must be boiling first and he added a teaspoon of oil to prevent the grains of rice from sticking together. The rice was cooked in roughly 10 minutes.

Pathak then added a few spices to the rice to give it flavour. A star anise looks pretty and adds a subtle flavour, while cinnamon and bay leaves also lend their flavours.

When our rice was ready, we served it and added our channa masala (chickpea curry) on top and then drizzled ( so posh) some yogurt on top. It looked so good, we couldn’t wait to tuck in and try it. Yes — delicious!

For pudding, we made some baked peaches, the middle stuffed with dried fruit and nuts and sprinkled with cinnamon. Before baking, the peaches are coated in honey. When they were baked and soft, they were served with a tasty yogurt sauce made with lemon zest and cardamom spice and sugar.

It was a satisfying culinary adventure and I was extremely pleased with myself. A fellow journalist said he would be able to survive as a bachelor if he could cook using these skills.

• trish.beaver@witness.co.za

Ingredients:

4 peaches, cut in half with seed removed

4 tablespoons runny honey

good pinch of cinnamon powder

4 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed

2 tablespoons raisins

2 tablespoons pecans (or mixed nuts), roughly chopped (optional)

4 tablespoons thick plain yogurt or crème fraiche

zest and juice of ½ lemon

sugar to taste

mint to garnish

Method:

1. Lay the peaches cut side up on a baking tray. Drizzle the honey over them.

2. Sprinkle over the cinnamon powder and crushed green cardamom seeds.

3. Top with some raisins and pecans.

4. Bake in a preheated oven (180°C) for 10 minutes, or until the peaches have started to soften but still hold their shape.

5. In the meantime, make the lemon yogurt or cream. Mix together the lemon zest and juice with the yogurt or crème fraiche. Taste and add a good pinch of sugar.

6. Serve the peaches with a good dollop of lemon yogurt or crème fraiche, and a final garnish of mint.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 spring onions, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 tablespoon root ginger, finely chopped

1 to 2 green chillies, finely sliced (optional)

1 tomato, chopped

2 teaspoons garam masala powder

600 g cooked chickpeas, drained and washed if in brine

1 tablespoon fresh coriander, chopped

salt to taste.

Method:

1. Gently heat the oil and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida (if using).

2. When the seeds starts sizzling add the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chilli (if using).

3. Sauté for one minute before adding the tomatoes and garam masala. Sprinkle in a little water to prevent the masala from burning.

4. Stir well, and after a few minutes, stir in the drained chickpeas. Add about 200 ml of water.

5. Cover and allow to cook on simmer for

10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.

7. Finally, stir through the coriander and serve with rice or your favourite Indian bread.

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