Indian Night

There’s nothing quite like cooking for friends. Cooking for my family is a different experience  altogether. When my folks come over, I tend to make very simple dishes, more on the roast or slow cooked side of things as anything too different will freak out my dad. So, I tend to do the same old thing, occasionally sneaking in some spices or sour cream and hope he doesn’t notice…he usually doesn’t!

Cooking for friends, however is an entirely different story. On these nights I can be as creative as I want, obviously taking into account any allergies and dislikes but usually I am free to serve up what I think they will like. They also appreciate being cooked for and the effort that has gone into the meal so they never complain.

Tonight we are having an Indian Curry night with some friends. I did a quick check on the contents of my pantry on Monday and found the spice jars seriously lacking. A trip to the Indian spice store was in order. An hour later I emerged with not just what I needed for tonight’s dinner but a complete restock of the pantry. I can now grind any combination of spices for any type of curry yours and my heart desires. As there are also teenage children coming tonight I thought the curry  had better not contain explosive spices but be mild and creamy but still full of flavour.

My daughter loves Butter Chicken and so do the others coming tonight, so Butter Chicken it was. Doesn’t sound exotic but the flavours and slight sourness from the vinegar and lime juice make this a very tasty dish. There are quite a few steps too, if you are following a recipe and not just opening a jar. The butter has to be chilled and not cooked for too long otherwise you get ‘ghee’ and it develops a grainy texture. You have to marinate the chicken in all its spices and yoghurt and add everything else just before serving. So, while the chicken can be made ahead of time and reheated, the last few steps are best done while your guests are there in order to serve immediately. Timing is important and that can be a little scary.

I really hate cooking when people are here and like to just serve up drinks and sit down to eat, so, as tonight I can’t do that I thought some tasty and crunchy deep fried vegetable pakoras were in order. While the guests munched on these beauties, served with a cucumber raita, I could get on with the last steps of the curry and no one would notice what I was doing. By the time they were finished and another drink was poured and the chatter was in full swing, we would be ready to sit and indulge in the creamy curry.

I always felt that Butter Chicken was what you ordered for a child when you dragged them to an Indian restaurant so you could have the vindaloo and indeed it is a great dish to serve them in order to expose them to new flavours without freaking them out. For that reason I also made a spicier lentil curry for the adults. Simple enough to not kill me by making two meat based curries. Of course, I will be eating both curries and so will everyone else…but you know…just in case! Served up with Basmati rice and Chapati of course. The amounts in the following recipes is really a guide, you can double the quantities of the spices if you like, especially for the Pakora.

As I type this I have already made almost everything and even managed to have a nap on the couch. The table was set hours ago and my feet don’t even hurt. It’s been a gorgeous sunny day. I’ve spent most of it shopping and drinking coffee with my best friend and have still managed to get almost everything done and the guests are not even due to arrive for another 3 hours.

Time for another cuppa I think…or nap…love being on holidays!

Butter Chicken

Ingredients

2 kilos chicken pieces on the bone or 1 1/2 kilos chicken thighs, cubed.

4 – 5 tablespoons oil

 Marinade

2 cups full fat yoghurt

3 – 4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 cm fresh ginger, grated

2/3 teaspoon red chilli powder or paprika

1/4 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

a tiny pinch of tandoori colouring (optional)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lime juice

For the Mahkani Sauce

700g tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)

75g (3oz) chilled butter

1/2 teaspoon paprika

few drops of vinegar

1/4 teaspoon garam masala powder

salt

1/4 cup single cream.

Method.

First prepare the marinade.

(It’s actually a good idea to wrap the yoghurt in cheesecloth and hang to allow the whey to drip away before you do anything else).

Place the yoghurt in a large bowl and all the ingredients from the marinade list. Stir to combine. Add the chicken and marinate for a couple of hours. Overnight is always better.

Scald the tomatoes for the mahkani sauce and peel off the skin. Reduce to a semi pulp with a fork. Put the kasuri methi into a grinder and reduce to a powder.

When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large, thick bottomed pan and put the chicken in with the marinade. Cover and cook over a low heat until done. Turn the chicken over during cooking.

Put the tomato pulp into a frying pan and cook for 5 mins until the liquid has evaporated slightly.

Add the chilled butter and paprika; after the butter has melted, let it cook for just 1 minute. Taste. If it has no sourness, add a few drops of vinegar. Add the kasuri methi and garam masala powder and salt to taste. After 30 seconds add the cream and stir. The sauce is now ready. Pour into the pan and mix well with the chicken. Serve immediately.

If butter is cooked for as long as 3 mins it will turn into ghee and become grainy.  So start with chilled butter and cook for less than 2 mins after the butter has melted.

You can cook the chicken ahead of time.  Mahkani Sauce only takes 5 mins to prepare and should be made when the dish is to be eaten. You can cook the tomato ahead, but add the butter just before serving.

Crispy Vegetable Pakoras

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chickpea (gram) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3/4 cup (190ml) water
  • oil for deep frying
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 onions, sliced into rings or any other vegetables you have in the fridge.
  • I used cauliflower florets and grated carrots, zucchini & beetroot and placed the whole lot into the batter and mixed well then spooned out about 1 tablespoon and fried them up in a wok.
  Method
Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 10 minutes
Sift the chickpea flour into a medium bowl. Mix in the coriander, salt, turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala and garlic.
Make a well in the centre of the flour. Gradually pour the water into the well and mix to form a thick, smooth batter.
Over medium high heat in a large, heavy saucepan, heat the oil to 190 degrees C.
Coat the cauliflower and onions/ vegetables in the batter and fry them in small batches until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on kitchen roll before serving. Serve with a cucumber raita.