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Tandoori chicken cooked at home!

the king of kebabs – tandoori chicken!!

Here is my version of the ‘king of kebabs’, AKA tandoori chicken, which you can make at home even if you do not have a tandoor. Last year I wrote about my memory of this wonderful dish which reminds me so much of my father. If you’re keen for the story, click here. If you’re simply keen for the recipe, scroll down!

Ingredients:
1 kg whole chicken, with the skin on

whole chicken

Preparing the chicken for the first marinade:

  1. Skin the chicken & remove any excess fat & sinew. Also, remove the parson’s nose.

skin chicken & remove excess fat & trim

2. Remove the ends of the winglets on each side.

remove the ends of winglets on either side

3. Trim the ends of the drumsticks.

trim the ends of the drumsticks

4. Make a tiny slit between the thigh & the drumstick on each side, without cutting it fully.

gently make a slit between the thigh & the drumstick on each side, without cutting it fully

5. Make three evenly spaced slits on each drumstick, lengthways.

make three evenly spaced slits on each drumstick, lengthways

6. Make three slits on each thigh, as well.

do the same lengthways slit on each thigh, as well

each chicken leg should look like this

7. Make two slits along each breast, lengthways.

make two slits lengthwise along each breast

8. The chicken is now ready for the first marinade.

the prepared chicken should look like this!!

Ingredients

First Marinade

1. 2 tablespoons white vinegar
2. 1 teaspoon cooking salt
3. 1 1/2 teaspoons kashmiri chilli, ground

ingredients for first marinade: white vinegar, kashmiri chilli [ground] & salt

Tandoori masala/second marinade

1.1 1/2 cup thick yoghurt
2. 1 tablespoon ground ginger
3. 1 tablespoon ground garlic
4. 2 tablespoons ground kashmiri chillies, soaked in oil
5. 2 teaspoons kebab garam masala
6. salt, to taste

kashmiri chillies soaked in oil & kashmiri chillies ground to a fine paste

ingredients for second marinade/tandoori masala:
top row, left to right: yoghurt, crushed ginger & crushed garlic
bottom row, nilgiri’s garam masala, ground kashmiri chillies & salt

Method:
1. Skin the chicken, remove any excess fat but leave some as it helps keep the bird moist. Prepare the chicken for the first marinade.

chicken ready for the First Marinade

2. Prepare the chicken for the second marinade/tandoori masala by applying the white vinegar, salt and the chilli.

marinate the chicken with vinegar, making sure you rub gently into all the slits

add the salt & rub in

add the chilli powder & massage gently into the breast

do the same with the legs

3. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

the chicken should look like this after the first marinade

cover & refrigerate for 30 minutes

4. Prepare the second marinade by blending the yoghurt with the crushed ginger, crushed garlic, ground chillies with oil, garam masala, salt together to form a ‘tandoori masala’.

start with yoghurt for the second marinade

add crushed ginger

add crushed garlic

mix well

add salt

add ground kashmiri chillies in oil

mix well & check for seasoning

add nilgiri’s garam masala & fold

the Second Marinade/Tandoori Masala is ready

5. Remove the chicken from the fridge and apply the Tandoori Masala onto the marinated chicken.

apply the tandoori masala on the marinated chicken

apply the marinade all over the chicken, massaging gently in every slit & cavity

another angle of the marinated chicken

6. Cover and place the marinated chicken in the fridge for about an hour.

marinated chicken, ready to go!!

cover & refrigerate for about an hour

7. Remove the chicken from the fridge, place a skewer through the chicken. place the chicken in an earthenware, or clay, pot and place this in a pre-heated oven, temp. 160C.

run a skewer through the chicken & place on an earthenware pot or roasting tray with your choice of spices to give a ‘smoked’ flavour!

9. Cook in the oven for about 45 mins, or till the meat is cooked.

place the chicken in a pre-heated oven at 160 C

chicken cooking in the oven after 10-15 minutes

chicken after 25 minutes

10. To caramelise the chicken, turn on the grill in the oven. Cook for about 5 mins, or till the meat is golden.

chicken almost cooked, after 45 minutes, it is now ready for the grill

chicken after being grilled

tandoori chicken, hot from the oven

11. Serve the ‘king of kebabs’ with a mint and coriander chatni, sliced onions and a lemon wedge.

tandoori chicken, with onion rings, lemon wedge & mint & coriander chatni

Accompaniments:

Mint and Coriander Chatni
Ingredients:
1. 1 bunch fresh mint, roots removed and some of the thick stems taken off, washed
2. 1 big bunch fresh coriander, roots taken off, stem removed, washed
3. 4-5 small green chillies
4. 1 tablespoon pomegranate extract
5. salt, to taste
6. 1 red onion
7. lemon wedge

chatni ingredients: fresh mint, fresh coriander, pomegranate extract, lemon wedge, fresh green chillies & one red onion

Method:

1. Grind all the ingredients, except for the red onion and lemon wedge, to a fine paste. Add salt, as required.

grind all the chatni ingredients (apart from the red onion and lemon wedge)  to a fine paste. add salt

2. Refrigerate and serve with the hot chicken alongside the sliced red onion and lemon wedge.

mint chatni, ready for the chicken, refrigerate until required

the perfect accompaniment to the “king of kebabs”!!

A few things to remember:

1. Buy the chicken with the skin on as this keeps the meat moist, even if you are not marinating it the same day.

2. Remember to prepare the chicken for the second marinade by applying the first marinade. Do not add the first marinade to the second and apply it on to the bird altogether. This won’t save you time, also, the marinade will not stick to the chicken.

3. To get the red colour, soak the chillies in lukewarm water till they swell (balloon), then squeeze the chillies and crush in a food processor with some vegetable oil.

4. Cook the chicken at a temperature of 160- 170 C as this keeps the meat moist and allows the chicken to cook from the ‘inside – out’.

5. To caramelise the chicken, flash under a hot grill or do as I do here!

6. Add your choice of whole spices to the earthenware pot before placing the chicken in it. As the oven heats up, so do the spices and the smoked flavour permeates into the meat.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

Perfect dal is all about tadka, baghar, vagharne, chonk, phodni or…..just call it tempering !!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

So, what is it that makes a good dal become an exceptional dal?

Well, the Gujaratis call it vagharne, the Punjabis call it tadka, the inhabitants of Uttar Bharat call it chonk, the Hyderabadis call it baghar, the Maharashtrians call it phodni and the . . . well, there are at least 25 other versions of this technique and in English we’d call it ‘tempering’.

ingredients used for adding the extra ‘oomph’

In India the actual process of tempering is the same in every state, although some of the ingredients may change because of their availability, or lack thereof, within each state, but the end result never changes which is to get a “wow” factor into the dish.

A simple dal dish is the best way to demonstrate how great tempering is.

The Southern Indians eat their dal with rice while in the north it is an excellent accompaniment with roti, or bread. You can, of course, eat yours with anything you want and as a vegetarian, if you have it with bread or rice it creates a perfect meal full of protein.

mung dal

A Northern dal dish is called mung dal tadka whereas the South Indians call it paruppu (well, that is what my wife calls it who hails from the south!). Today we are using paytham paruppu and giving it a talichu.

mung dal tadka

paytham paruppu with ‘talichu’

Ingredients:

2 cups moong dal (mung lentils)
8 cups cold water (tap water)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, mung dal, turmeric and water

step 1: Wash and drain lentils.

wash & drain lentils

step 2: Add turmeric and oil to the lentils along with 8 cups of water and bring water to the boil.

add turmeric and oil and cook the lentils

step 3: Cook lentils until soft, add the salt, turn off the heat and set aside.

mung dal should be soft to touch when cooked

mung dal, cooked, soft, salted and ready for the tempering!!

Now for the tadka or ‘tempering’:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon ground chilli
salt, to taste
juice of half a lemon
2-3 fresh coriander leaves

clockwise, from left to right: vegetable oil (centre), cumin seeds, asafoetida, chilli powder, salt, lemons & fresh coriander

Method:

step 1. For tadka, or ‘tempering’, heat oil in a pan and let it smoke, remove from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.

heat oil in a pan

add the cumin seeds

step 2. Add the asafoetida and then chilli powder.

add the asafoetida

step 4. Pour the hot oil (this is called the ‘tempering’) on top of the cooked lentils.

pour the tempering on the hot dal

step 5. Add lemon juice and the coriander leaves and serve immediately!!

add lemon juice & fresh coriander

For talichu or ‘tempering’:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
2-3 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
salt, to taste
juice of half a lemon

clockwise, from left to right: vegetable oil (centre), mustard seeds, asafoetida, fresh green chillies, fresh curry leaves, salt & lemons

Method:

step 1. In a pan, heat the oil and let it smoke. Remove from the heat.

heat oil

step 2. Crackle the black mustard seeds (by adding to the hot oil!).

crackle the mustard seeds

step 3. Add the asafoetida.

add the asafoetida

step 4. Then add the chopped/slit green chillies.

add chopped/slit chillies

step 5. Place curry leaves on top of cooked lentils and pour the hot oil over.

place fresh curry leaves on top of the hot dal

pour the hot tempering over the dal and curry leaves

step 6. Add lemon juice and serve immediately.

squeeze lemon juice on top and serve immediately

Remember the following when cooking lentils:
1. Never soak the lentils. Wash and cook them immediately.
2. Start cooking the lentils in cold water, this helps them cook from the inside, out. As the water comes to the boil the heat slowly penetrates through the lentils, thereby making them soft.
3. Add the turmeric and oil to the lentils as soon as the pot is placed on the heat. This makes any impurities rise to the surface and the oil prevents the froth from overflowing. Do not discard the froth if there are no impurities.
4. Add the salt after the lentils are cooked and soft. If added at the beginning, the salt, prolongs the cooking and may also prevent the lentils from getting soft.

Remember the following when tempering:

1. The oil must be smoking and away from the heat when adding the spices.
2. The spices must be added as soon as possible but, and this is essential, one after the other. Adding the spices alternately allows them to crackle and release their flavors into the oil.
3. Never add the curry leaves to the hot oil, they will turn black and may even cause the oil to splatter. Instead, place the leaves on the cooked lentils and then pour the hot oil on top of the leaves as shown in the picture in steps 4 & 5.
4. Add the lemon juice just before serving, this helps bring out the flavors and brightens the colour of the dal!!

Serve it accompanied with a roti for the northern version, or with some boiled rice if it is the southern version, or do what my son and I do, which is so simple and yet so delicious. We just have it as a ‘soup’ on its own. Superb!

father & son enjoying a big bowl of dal!!

Save the roti and the rice for kozhi milagu chettinad or murgh kali mirch!

And there we have it, folks!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

Dosai for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner … or anytime in between!!!!

It was a year ago, almost to the day, that I wrote how so many Indians love to eat it but very few can cook it.

Yes, you guessed it, or you might remember, dosai!

As some of you will know, and some of you won’t, we make fresh masala dosai in our open kitchen at nilgiri’s. Look, dosai take practice, I don’t want to deter you but usually by your third attempt your dosai will be good.

Please remember, making dosai isn’t like making pancakes that you make on a Sunday morning and then serve immediately. We let our dosai rest for a few days. Click this dosai recipe for full details.

“Practice makes perfect,” as the old adage says and on that note, may I wish you all the best for 2013!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

The ingredients: 1 part white lentil flour, 3 parts rice flour, a pinch of salt [to make the pancake golden)

adding salt to the rice flour and white lentil flour

mixing the ingredients with the best and most natural whisk otherwise known as fingers!

add water [approximately 3-3 1/2 parts

mixing

mix or whisk

more mixing

check texture, it should be a ‘dropping-like’ consistency

pour into pot to let it ferment and rise!!

the mixture will ferment

cover fermenting mixture with a moist cloth, set aside for a few hours or overnight

remove cover to see it rise like a soufflé

set aside a teaspoon of the risen batter to form a ‘starter’ for the next batch

keep ‘starter’ in the refrigerator covered in cling wrap

add water to prepare batter for dosai

mix, or as I say, ‘fold’

check consistency, it must be close to a ‘pouring-like’ consistency for making the pancake

get ready for the act!!

prepare cooktop, or a griddle plate, or a ‘tawa’ by heating it and putting salt on the cooktop

wipe away the salt thus leaving behind a teflon-like surface when the salt starts to ‘cook’

add mixture to the smooth cooktop, just a big drop, holding the steel cup with 3 fingers only!

pouring the mixture on top of hot plate/griddle plate

smoothing the mixture with a circular motion, moving outwards in a concentric ring-like motion

enlarging the circle

enlarging the dosai

enlarging the circle, at this stage you drizzle clarified butter and oil over the dosai, or, if you are vegan simply omit the butter and use oil only

clarified butter

adding oil to the butter stops it burning

drizzle butter in a circular pattern

gently spread butter with a spoon

the upper surface of the dosai will fry and start to turn golden

the dosai will fold

roll the dosai

the first dosai is never perfect so don’t worry!!

the second dosai is never perfect either!

the third dosai; well from now on it is perfect!

the beautiful circles left by the cooked dosai

add potato filling

gently lever under the dosai, working around its perimeter

lever the dosai upwards gently

fold over filling

roll over

serve masala dosai with classical accompaniments, sambhar and coconut chutney!!

Mysore Chilli Chicken ….

This chilli chicken dish is simple yet skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced. So much intricacy in this dish!

Mysore chilli chicken dish

So, let’s get started and first make the masala:

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off, here are a few tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

I don’t use ‘ghee’ but you certainly may….!!

In almost every class I am asked, why is it that I don’t use ghee in my cooking and my answer is and has always been, “Because, dear folks, I have never understood what happens to ghee when it melts.”

And I continue, “Nor have I understood how to get the best out of this extremely popular and ‘healthy cooking medium’. Simple!!”

And I can see that the person asking the question is surprised, because more often than not they’ve bought that nice, round tin of ghee and it’s sitting in their fridge, and they may have used it once, and then it’s languished there, never ‘going off’.

Because you see, it is always a ‘trial and error’ with ghee. You can ‘test’ and ‘flunk’ at home without anyone ‘twittering’ about how bad, or unfit, the dish was, but one small ‘mistake’ in my business and, well you know, we all live amidst a mightily chattering social media!

With oil, however, especially polyunsaturated vegetable oil it is easy. You just wait for the ‘ripples’ to disappear when heating it; you then wait for the oil to just start smoking and you are in business!!

But having said that, and even though I do hold strong views about it, I am never going to stop, or intercept, anyone from using it. I always like you experimenting and trying out anything.

So, go for it, by all means.

Simon Marnie from ABC Radio loves to cook using ghee, once said to me that it was difficult to find good ghee and he is so right.

Good ghee is not easy to buy because ‘good ghee’ is always made at home!! (There goes your tin!)

Aai, my mother, who is around 85 years old, still makes her own ghee because she believes that if the medium of cooking is not pure then the food that is cooked in it just cannot be holy.

Its a simple philosophy. And it produces superb results, time and time again.

But how, and where, does one find ‘pure’ ghee?

pure ghee

I did a blog on To ghee or not to ghee about a year ago, and so I am not going to talk about the benefits of using, or not using, ghee in your cooking as you can read it (or not) yourself.

But this time I want to focus on getting ‘pure’ ghee!! So, out with the notebook folks!

Pure ghee is made from pure makkhan [aka, home-made butter (unsalted)] which comes from fresh malai [aka, fresh cream].

And this is how it is made . . . but before we get onto the pure ghee, a small story, if I may be so bold!

In 1990, just before I started my own restaurant (with a business partner), I had the privilege of running a small restaurant in Newtown with my wife, Meera.

I was the ‘head chef’ and Meera was the ‘head waitress’. I had a chef named Mahadevan who specialised in tandoor cooking.

Mahadevan had come to Australia to buy and sell minerals. He was a miner as well as a partner in a mine near Madras. After he left Madras, his partners decided to sell off the mine and share the profits in his absence. So, the poor ‘MD’ lost all his investments whilst he was away hoping to crack a deal with the mines in NSW.

Little did he know that there was nothing for him to go back to. All was lost. Mahadevan, not surprisingly, ended up a wreck!!

He started drinking a lot, became an alcoholic and ended up in AA. Six months later he decided to gather himself together and make a fresh start. So, he started off by washing dishes in an Indian restaurant and when an opportunity came by for him to learn cooking, he made the most of it!

Mahadevan became a Tandooriya and a damn fine one too!!

His kebabs, especially the tandoori chicken ones, were to die for. He did something that made the chicken ‘sing’, something I had never seen before in all my cooking life.

Basically, Mahadevan ‘finished’ his tandoori chicken with a final touch, or sprinkling, of chat masala with lemon juice and ghee.

Yes, that’s right, ghee!!

Australia had no such product on the market so Mahadevan made his own ghee. From start to finish….!!

And this is how he made it and this is how I would also makes it…..

Well, the recipe is no ‘talk’, or should I say, no ‘write’ but all pictures:

Step 1: Keep the following tools & ingredients for home-made makkhan or butter & home-made ghee ready:

food processor with whisk attachment & fresh cream at room temperature

3 or 4 bowls of cold water with ice cubes

a thick-bottomed pan/pot, a strainer or two & a small pot for the ghee

Step 2: Making the makkhan [butter]

add 1 litre cream to the bowl & whisk gradually

the start of the whisking process

the next stage of whisking when the cream froths & bubbles

the next stage of whisking when the cream starts to thicken

more thickening of the cream

the cream is really thick & rising in volume constantly

at this stage the cream is now getting ready to split

continue whisking as the cream gets grainier & the solids start to separate from the ‘buttermilk’

the cream has split & the makkhan or butter & the ‘buttermilk’ are clearly visible separately. Stop whisking now!

Step 3: Washing the makkhan [butter] in ice water

strain the makkhan or butter through a strainer into an empty vessel. Reserve the ‘buttermilk’.

use a spatula or your fingers to scrape all the makkhan into the strainer

shape the makkhan into round balls while squeezing out the buttermilk at the same time

‘wash’ the balls of makkhan in the ice-cold water till no more buttermilk can be squeezed out. It is critical that the water is really cold, as the makkhan is then firm & easy to handle

continue this process for all the makkhan in the strainer. The home-made makkhan is ready & may be stored in the refrigerator!!

Step 4: Making the ghee

place the washed balls of makkhan in a thick-bottom pan or pot

keep on a low heat/flame

the makkhan starts to melt gradually

do not stir or disturb the makkhan as it continues to melt

there will be a layer of froth on the top & a layer of solids at the bottom of the pan

as the makkhan transforms into ghee, the froth on top will start to disappear & the solids at the bottom will start to caramelise

Voilà! The ghee is ready when the solids turn light golden & the froth on top also starts to turn golden

strain the ghee, but do not discard the solids

the ghee should be a perfectly clear & golden liquid

 

When making ghee it is important to remember the following:

1.  The cream must be fresh, even if it is from the supermarket. There is nothing better than getting the fresh cream on the day you’re going to make your ghee.

2.  You need to keep a constant supply of  ice-cold water as this is the best way to solidify your ‘pure butter’ as it is being made.

3.  The fresh cream must be churned gradually, this helps separate the fat from the buttermilk.

4.  The buttermilk can be used to make other dishes. . .

5.  The water usde to wash the makkhan is an excellent ‘feed’ for the herb garden, especially for the kari leaf plant !!

6. Pure ghee must be like ‘crystal clear’ glass and have a light golden ‘tinge’ to it.

precious liquid gold – GHEE!!

This is pure gold, also known as GHEE!!!

I think someday all the food in my restaurant will be cooked in this pure gold, but until then it will have to be polyunsaturated vegetable oil [except ‘canola’ because canola, in the state of NSW, is genetically…….!!]

Well, I hope you’re successful with making your own ghee. Let me know how you get on.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

From the land of biryanis comes another classic….!!

. . .and it is called qabooli, derived from the word qabool meaning ‘to accept’!

This is how it is made.

As most of you will remember, we made the vegetable stock last week and this week we’re using it in this wonderful biryani. There were 3 litres of vegetable stock (ganga jal) made.

So, now that we’ve got our vegetable stock ready, let’s get cracking with making the dish.

Ingredients:

1. 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2.  2 medium-sized red (Spanish) onions, finely chopped
3.  2 tablespoons salt
4.  1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
5.  1 1/2 tablespoons ground garlic
6.  1 teaspoon ground turmeric
7.  1 1/2 tablespoons ground dried red chillies
8.  2 cups yoghurt
9. garam masala for biryani
10. saffron threads soaked in warm milk 

ingredients, from left to right: vegetable oil, salt, ground ginger, ground garlic, turmeric, ground chillies, garam masala, saffron threads and chopped onions & yoghurt (centre)

11.  1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped
12.  1  bunch fresh mint, chopped
13.  4-5 fresh green chillies, sliced
14.  1 medium-sized red onion, sliced and caramelised

ingredients, from left to right: caramelised onions, chopped coriander, sliced green chillies & chopped mint

15.  1 cup chana dal, or chick pea lentils, soaked in half the vegetable stock.
16.  3 cups Basmati rice soaked in 12 cups of water

ingredients: Basmati rice & chana dal

Method:

1.  Soak the rice in cold water till the rice touches the surface of the water (approx. 15 minutes).
2.  Soak the chick pea lentils in half the vegetable stock for about 15 minutes. Then cook on high heat till the lentils are soft but not mashed. Drain and set aside. Set the strained liquid aside.

chick pea lentils soaked in vegetable stock

bring to a boil & cook on high heat

cook till the lentils are soft but not mashed

strain the lentils & reserve the ‘pot liquor’

strained lentils

3.  Heat oil in a pot till it smokes, add the chopped onions and reduce the heat to moderate.

heat oil

add the chopped onions

4. Add 1 tablespoon salt and fold the onions. Cook till onions are almost caramelised.

add salt

caramelise the onions

5. Add the ground ginger and fold. Cook till the ginger is caramelised.

add the ginger

cook till the ginger caramelises

6.  Add the ground garlic and cook till caramelised.

add the garlic

cook for a couple of minutes

7.  Add the turmeric, followed by the chilli and gradually fold till the oil leaves the sides of the pot.

add the turmeric

and the chilli

cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pot

8.  Add the yoghurt and cook till the yoghurt has completely cooked and the oil appears on the sides of the pot.

add the yoghurt

cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pot

9.  Add the cooked and strained chana dal, fold and cook till oil leaves the sides of the pot.

add the chana dal

cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pot

10.  Sprinkle the garam masala on top.

sprinkle the garam masala on top

fold into the dal

11.  Add the chopped mint, chopped coriander and the sliced chillies to the lentils. cover and keep aside.

add the chopped mint

and the chopped coriander

followed by the chillies

cover & keep aside

12.  In a pot bring the remaining stock and the drained liquid (kept aside after cooking the lentils) to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt.

boil the stock & drained liquid from cooked chana dal in a separate pot

add salt

13.  Add the drained rice to the boiling stock and cook till the rice is al dente, strain and add to the cooked lentils.

drain the rice

ensure stock is boiling

add drained rice to boiling stock

cook till the rice is al dente

strain the cooked rice

layer over the fresh herbs on the chana dal

14.  Sprinkle the soaked saffron threads on top of the rice. Cover rice with a moist cloth/ tea towel and place the pot in a pre-heated, fan forced oven, temp. 150 C, for about 20 mins.

sprinkle the saffron threads soaked in milk

layered biryani ready for the oven

cover with a wet tea towel

place the lid on top

place in the oven

15. Remove qabooli (biryani) from oven, top with caramelised onions and fresh herbs and serve with bhoorani and roasted pappads!!

remove qabooli from the oven & remove the wet tea towel

the layers of the qabooli

qabooli hot from the oven

top with caramelised onions

and fresh herbs

serve with roasted pappads & bhoorani

This is a superb vegetarian dish and I hope you enjoy making it. It’s often the simplest, and most straightforward things, that can often be the best.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava

A stock without any bones, but loaded with flavour!!!

In 1983 after I completed my training in Madras, I was offered a job in the Taj Group of Hotels as a commis in their new project in Bangalore. This was a dream come true for me.

I had always wanted to work for the Taj.

I had worked with the Taj Group previously as a trainee and a part-time cook but this was a full-time Job (with a capital ‘J’).

So, now that I was going full-time, there wasn’t going to be any more peeling onions or potatoes by the bagful. I was past that stage now. This was going to be a full-time job with responsibility!

When we reached Bangalore we were informed that the opening of the new hotel was postponed by about a year and that we were to go to Taj Palace in Delhi for specialization in different key areas of the kitchen.

Super!! That was fine by me. I had always wanted to specialize in handi cooking and making rotis in the tandoor.

This situation was perfect as I knew that the Taj Palace had Chef NP Singh looking after the restaurant, which was aptly named “Handi”, and that NP was a great teacher himself.

So, with great anticipation Deepak Rao, Annadurai and I reach Delhi and promptly report to the executive chef, Ruhaina Jayal, possibly the first female chef of a 5-star hotel at that time.

Chef Ruhaina then asks us to report to Mr Arvind Saraswat who was the corporate chef. Now, Chef Saraswat wasn’t just any other chef, he was the Big Chef. No, he was the Very Big Chef [upper case intended!]. For back then the Taj Bangalore was under his command, along with other hotels in Rajasthan and Madras.

Being under the ‘command’ of such a big chef made me nervous as this was not a part of the original script.

In the lines we’d learned in past performances, we usually just reported to the executive chef and that was the end of the matter. Not, however, any more. I mean, we were no longer apprentices and it was expected that we were to take up responsible positions on our return to Bangalore so we had to report to the Big Chef himself!!

We are summoned, one at a time, into Chef Saraswat’s office. In this office each of us is handed an envelope and asked to move on. “Yes Sir!!” we salute mentally as we’re drilled into action.

As we each open our envelopes we lean excitedly to see what the other is going to be doing.

Deepak gets to specialise in the “continental” kitchen.

Annadurai gets the handi kitchen and I. . . well, I do a double take in disbelief as I get to specialize in the “soup” section.

“What?!!” I think to myself and then say out loud. I’ve never heard anything like that before.

What in the world am I going to tell my Dad, my friends? . . . I am shattered. This wasn’t what I had expected at all!!

I want to quit, but then I calm myself and acknowledge that I don’t want to work for the Oberoi or the ITC or any number of other hotels that are just not in the same league!!

So, I decide to wage war against my inner feelings and I settle down with the idea of becoming the best chef de potage in the world (but I still can’t stop, literally and metaphorically, shaking my head from side to side thinking, “Bl…y h..l”!!).

Soup indeed!

And it’s right here, at the soup section folks, that I learn my first lesson in cooking and in life. And it’s quite a simple one: don’t have any expectations in life or you will be disappointed. Instead have hope and work damn’d hard for it.

So, I knuckle down and I start my specialization as a soup cook with Chef John.

Work starts at 6 a.m. every day, six days a week and it finishes at 3 p.m. every day.

Soups are made for the entire hotel, around 20-22 different kinds, and they are then delivered to each ‘satellite’ kitchen. I work my a.. off.

But I am not happy. I don’t belong here. Chef John, who is a master craftsman and also a mind reader, though he had no real qualifications to speak of, was a genuinely kind-hearted man for which you can’t gain any qualifications, it has to come from the heart.

“Son,” he says to me “you can always work in any kitchen after you have finished your shift here in the ‘soup kitchen’. You can work in the Indian kitchen, if you wish, or you can work in the garde manger.” As we all know, the garde manger is an unpopular starting point so what do I do?

Well, I opt for. . .

Both!!

And it’s here that my specialization begins! I am all pumped up even though I start my day at 4.30 a.m. in the morning and finish by 9 p.m.

And guess what? Yes, I love this! I wanted to specialize in the handi and rotis but I am now getting trained in the soup and larder as well.

Which leads me to the second lesson of my cooking life (and life in general!): expect the unexpected!!

Now that my mind is unclouded and I am working hard and long in such a variety of jobs, I am learning a lot much sooner. One of the lessons I’m learning very fast is Chef  John’s simple philosophy.

He believes that food cooked in, or with, water is bland and has no shelf life. Instead of water he likes to cook with a stock. He calls it Ganga jal, holy water, and he uses a different stock for every soup that is made in the kitchen. For example, he uses a mild fish stock for all the fish / shellfish soups. He uses a light chicken stock for all the Asian-style soups, and he uses a vegetable stock for all the shorbas.

Now all these stocks were out of this world!

He could be heard screaming in the kitchen, “Betae, Pan pakadne se pahle Chaku Chalaana seekho, Khaana banaane se pahle ‘stock’ banana seekho.” (Which means, “Son, learn to use the knife before you think of using the pan, and learn how to make a stock before you think of  cooking a proper dish.”)

Which brings me to a third simple lesson in cooking (and in life): get the basics right before you think of playing the ‘big shots’!

It is here that I learn to make some simple but fragrant stocks, a practice followed to this day in my desi kitchen!!

This week I want to make a simple vegetable stock that will be used to make a simple vegetarian (or vegan) dish…

To make a vegetable stock, or vegetable Ganga jal you simply follow the instructions below. What could be easier?

Ingredients:

1.  2 tablespoons moong dal or mung lentils

2.  2 tablespoons masoor dal or red lentils

3.  1 tablespoon black peppercorns

4.  2-3 bay leaves

5.  3-4 cloves with bud intact

6.  1 tablespoon coriander seeds

7.  1 small piece of ginger, roughly chopped

8.  1 small green chilli

9.  fresh coriander stalks with roots intact, washed thoroughly

10.  6 lts of cold water

ingredients from left to right: mung lentils, red lentils, bay leaves, peppercorns, fresh ginger, green chilli, cloves, coriander seeds & fresh coriander stalks (centre)

Method:

1. Place 3 litres of cold water into a pot along with the mung lentils [moong dal].

add cold water to a pot

add the mung lentils

2.  Bring the water to a boil, add the masoor dal and the remaining water. Bring to a boil. Allow the liquid to ‘slow boil’.

add the masoor dal after the water comes to a boil

add the remaining water

3.  Skim the scum off the surface of the water at regular intervals.

bring the stock to a ‘slow boil’

skim off the scum frequently

keep the stock at a ‘slow boil’, skimming often as the water boils

4.  Add the bay leaves followed by the peppercorns.

add the bay leaves

followed by the peppercorns

5. Then add the cloves followed by the coriander seeds.

add the cloves

add the coriander seeds

6. Then add the ginger.

add the fresh ginger

7. Followed by the green chilli.

add the green chilli

8. Finally, add the coriander stalks with the roots attached.

add the coriander stalks and roots

9. Cook till the stock has reduced and is ‘clear’.

cook till the stock is reduced

the stock should be clear

10. Strain the stock and let cool. Then freeze, or refrigerate, till required.

strain the stock

refrigerate or freeze and use as required

Some simple, but important, points to remember when making a vegetable stock:

1.  The stock should never be allowed ‘simmer’ or it will turn the stock ‘cloudy’.

2.  Add the spices one at a time, as in our images. This small procedure allows the volatile oils in each spice impart its specific ‘character’ or flavour. Remember, cooking is like a building. You start with one layer and gradually add another on top, in stages!!

3. Add the herbs without crushing them too finely. This allows the flavors to come out gradually.

4. Skim off the scum from the surface at regular intervals. (A full-proof way to do this is to carefully tilt the pot to one side of the flame (heat). Tilting the pot one way means the scum on the surface of the pot will move to the opposite side, making it easier to skim off the surface! Try it, you’ll get the hang of it.)

5.  Reduce the stock till the liquid has reduced by about a third, which should give you approximately 2 litres of pure Ganga jal.

Now for the dish.

Well, before we make the dish, tune in next week when we use this Ganga jal to make a simple, but totally flavoursome, vegetarian dish.

Until then,

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

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