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Category Archives: Rice

Murgh kali mirch ……

murgh kali mirch served alongside steamed basmati rice

Happy New Year to you all, folks!

As my first blog for 2013 I want to share this recipe that, to this day, remains one of the most amazing dishes I have learnt to cook.

It is simple yet very technical as it uses black peppercorns, the king of spices, in three different ways.

First, the peppercorns are used whole to create an infusion in the hot oil; secondly, they are crushed or cracked; and thirdly, they’re ground with garlic and curry leaves to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish!!

the ingredients arranged before I cook

adding buttermilk to the chicken

mixing the buttermilk and chicken

adding oil or butter

adding peppercorns to the hot oil

adding cassia

adding the cardamon

adding cloves

adding asafoetida

adding onions and curry leaf to the oil

folding the spices and onions

the leaves will become translucent and the onions start to caramelize

add salt to taste and cook till onions are translucent

keep stirring whilst holding the pot firmly

add ground ginger and garlic one after the other, when the onions are golden

add the chilli powder

add turmeric powder

stir ingredients each time after adding a new one

add ground coriander

add chopped tomatoes

stir in the tomato

let the tomato cook till skin is soft

add marinaded chicken

fold in chicken

cook chicken

crush curry leaves and add to pot

add ground pepper

add a generous sprinkling of cracked pepper

cover the pot and simmer till chicken is cooked

add peppercorns to a mortar

add garlic flakes to mortar

crush leaves and add to mortar

add coriander leaves

crush ingredients with pestle working under a clean tea towel to prevent any mess, and smile please!!

add the crushed spices to the pot

sprinkle chopped coriander on top before serving

close up of dish

the dish is now ready!

plate the meal on a banana leaf and served with steamed rice

If you want quantities, here is the murgh kali mirch recipe.

And if you want the classic way to cook basmati rice, please watch this video!

Please let me know how you go with this dish.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

A classic recipe from the land of the coconut……!

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!

vegetable ishtew

Folks, this week we are making a dish that my ‘mallu’ friends call ‘ishtew’. Generally made with beef or chicken, here is my version with vegies and yes it is a ‘VEGAN‘ dish !!

ingredients clockwise starting in the 2 o’clock position: coconut oil, chopped red onions, sliced green chillies, broccoli and cauliflower florettes, diced tomatoes, kari leaves, ginger juliennes. outer ring: diced beans, cassia bark, green cardamom, cloves, mace blade, black peppercorn, star anise, caramelised onions, coriander leaves, coconut cream (or whole coconut if you are really keen; otherwise use coconut cream), diced potatoes, diced carrots

If you want instructions on how to caramelise onions (or even slice them), check out my techniques page.

Blanching the vegetables

Step 1

prepare mixing bowl of iced water

Step 2

add salt to boiling water in a large pot

Step 3

add diced potato to boiling water

Step 4

cook the potatoes until they are al dente

Step 5

to check of the potatoes are al dente, remove one from the pot and cut it with a knife – it should slide through like ‘cutting’ butter

Step 6

when the potatoes are al dente, scoop from the pot and place in iced water to stop the potato cooking any more

Step 7

Repeat this process for beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower – cook each vegetable separately when blanching.

Cooking the spices, onion, fresh chilli, kari leaves and tomato

Step 1

In a large frying pan, heat pan and add coconut oil. When the oil smokes, add spices separately, folding between each addition. Start with the cassia (cinnamon sticks), then green cardamoms, cloves,black peppercorns and mace blades.

Step 2

Look for signs that the spices have cooked. Initially the cassia will be furled. When it has cooked, it will be open.

cassia (cinnamon stick) not ready since it hasn’t unfurled

unfurled, now it is perfectly cooked

cooked cardamon pods will swell, like this

cooked mace will only slightly unfurl, like this

Step 3

now the spices are cooked, add chopped onions and keep folding whilst the onions caramelise. n.b. the coconut oil will froth

Step 4

add salt and fold

Step 5

when your onions have caramelised like this, it’s time to add the thinly sliced (julienned) ginger

Step 6

add the ginger and fold

Step 7

add fresh green chillies and fold

Step 8

add half the kari leaves and fold. repeat this process with the remaining half

Step 9

when your mixture looks like this, it’s time to add caramelised onions

add caramelised onions and fold

Step 10

when your onions look like this, it’s time to remove a cup of them to be used as a garnish

Step 10

setting aside some of the garnish

Step 11

add chopped tomatoes to the frying pan and fold until their skins have almost separated from the flesh (as above!)

Step 12

when the tomato skins have almost split, add coconut cream and fold

Step 13

turn down the heat so the coconut does’t boil as it will split if it boils. Small sporadic bubbles are fine!

Step 14

drain blanched vegetables and keep discarded water

Step 15

add vegetables to pot and fold

Step 16

keep folding until all the vegetables are covered by the creamy sauce

Step 17

cover pot for ten minutes, remove lid: your vegetables will (should!) look like this

Step 18

check that your sauce isn’t too runny – dip a spoon into the sauce and remove; the sauce shouldn’t run off the spoon but drip off. If the sauce runs off, keep reducing the sauce

if the sauce doesn’t drip off your spoon, add a little water (use the water from the blanched vegetables)

only add a little water (kept aside from the strained vegetables) at a time (if you need to)

Step 19

sample your dish – add salt to taste, if needed

Step 20 – Plate the dish

serve the meal – maybe on a banana leaf and red rice noodles a.k.a. Idiappam!

red rice noodles can be purchased from an Indian grocery store all ready to heat and serve!!

Step 21 Add garnishes and enjoy!

add chopped coriander

add caramelised onion/spice mixture you had set aside earlier

So folks, as promised, we are on a journey!! Not only am I ‘touring’ the vast land of India and showing you the great variety of its food, I’m also focusing on vegan dishes! Don’t, my dear meat-eating friends, be ‘put off’ by this. Make some of these as a side dish, if you want, with some kebabs (remember?) or lamb cutlets that take minutes to cook. And as for my vegan friends, well yes, I know, this is more than enough as a good meal in itself.

Until then, happy VEG(AN)TARIAN cooking and remember Indian food is NO DAMN CURRY IN…..!!! When I show this dish to people they say, “Is it Thai, Italian, Macrobiotic . . . etc. etc. etc.” and never bl–dy Indian. And on that merry note.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

This is soul food for the Goan!!

In my quest to understand the different cuisines on the west coast of India, and the subtle differences between them, I was asked to go to Mumbai to meet one Mr Almeida.

Chef Almeida was a Goan by birth and though he was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, he was considered an authority on Goan food.

He was on a short visit to India from New York, where he was then based. My job was to understand the ‘cuisine of Goa’. No mean feat!

We met at the Shamiana restaurant at the Bombay Taj and my crash-course on Goan food began. . .

Chef Almeida went on to tell me how there were at least two distinct styles of cooking in Goa.

One belonged to the Hindus (both Brahmins and non-Brahmins) and the other to the Christians (again, Brahmins and non-Brahmins). You see, the Christians were converts of both these castes.  Then there were the Muslims which must add a third – but I waited to hear what he had to say.

The Christians used vinegar in their cooking whereas the Hindus preferred kokum as a souring agent.

Tamarind was used by both the communities but preferred by the Muslims.

Lamb and chicken were the preferred meat of the Hindus. The Muslims liked lamb and the Christians ate everything, including pork !!

“But,” he said, “Son, whatever their religious or ethnic background, they all eat caril de piexe, or otherwise famously known as Goan fish!!”

This dish is soul food of the Goan people and the famous poet from Goa, Bakibab Borkar, describes this favourite dish with great emotion.

He says that if the God of death, or Yama, were to come tonight, you could most certainly hear these words being spoken:

Please Sir, Mr God of Death

Don’t make it my turn today,

not today,

there is fish curry for dinner.

You can’t say it better than that! So, without further ado, here it is, folks, a soulful Goan fish dish.

Ingredients:

1. 1 red onion, sliced

2. 1 1/2 tablespoon tamarind extract

3. 3-4 green chillies, sliced (with the seeds, of course!)

4. Salt, to taste

5. 1/2 kg fish fillets of snapper (preferred for this recipe), or ling, or barramundi (my favourite!!)

6. 2 cups of water

ingredients, from left to right: tamarind extract, green chillies, salt, water, fish fillets & sliced onions (bottom)

 

Masala ingredients:

1. 6-8 dried red chillies (preferably Kashmiri or combination of dry chillies), soaked in a tablespoon of brown vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water

2. 8-10 black peppercorns

3. 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

4. 1 tablespoon coriander seeds

5. 2 tablespoon crushed garlic

6. 1/2 fresh coconut, grated

7. 1 cup water, extra

ingredients for the masala, from left to right: crushed garlic, coriander seeds, turmeric, peppercorns, red chillies soaked in brown vinegar & water and fresh coconut (centre)

 

Method for the masala:

1. Place the coconut and turmeric in a blender along with the soaked chillies, coriander seeds, peppercorns, garlic, water and grind everything to a fine paste. Keep the masala in an airtight container in the refrigerator, if not using it right away. (It will keep for up to 1 week in the fridge.)

the ground masala!

 

Method for the caril de piexe:

1. In a pot, add the masala, along with 2 cups of water and the sliced onion.

add the masala to the pot

 

add water

 

add the sliced onions

 

2. Bring the mixture to a boil, over moderate heat.

bring the mixture to a boil

 

3. Add the tamarind concentrate and reduce the heat. Cook for about 2 minutes.

add the tamarind concentrate

 

4. Add the salt and the chillies. Cook for a few more minutes, until the chillies release their aroma.

add the salt

 

add the chillies

 

the sauce is ready for the fish when the onions are soft & the sauce thickens slightly. do not overcook the sauce

 

5. Now add the fish and cook for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.

add the fish

 

cover & cook the fish

 

do not stir the fish, but rather add the sauce on top of the fish

 

to serve, arrange the fillets in a bowl

 

pour some sauce on top

 

serve with hot sanna or brown rice or sticky white rice, best eaten of course, the day after!!

 

When making Goan Fish, remember:

1.  Soaking the chillies in vinegar helps bring out their bright colour when ground.

2.  You can use coconut cream instead of fresh coconut. I have found the ‘Kara’ brand of coconut cream to be very consistent and ‘rich’.

3.  Add the fish to the cooked masala [sauce], and allow the fish to cook over a moderate heat. Do not stir.

4. The dish is best eaten the day after it is made. This allows the flavours to mature fully and to permeate through the fish.

Serve it with a steaming hot sanna, or brown rice, or sticky white rice.

The sign of a ‘good’ Goan fish dish is when your eyes get red and sweat starts pouring all over your face and you say, “Vindaloo, what is that? That’s nothing in comparison to this. This is rocket fuel!!” This is food for the soul and body, Goan style, in extremis!

Remember though, never drink water to try to ‘cool’ yourself down.

Do what the Goan does. Just have a glass or two of Feni!!

Anna Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

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

At 31 years of age he is already an ‘ustaad’ !!!

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Indian music is like Indian food: totally mis-understood and completely undigested.

Indian music is not all ‘Bollywood masala’ and Indian food is not all ‘curry in a hurry’!!!

We’ve heard enough (well, almost, I would say as one can never say/hear enough about it!) about the ‘curry in a hurry’ stuff so let us play a different tune (pun totally intended) today.

We’re talking Indian music.

But I want to focus particularly on an instrument called tabla, a percussion instrument extensively used in Indian classical music.

Tabla is derived from the Persian word tabl which means drums.

So, how does a percussion instrument fit into cooking?

Well, as a part of our 16th birthday celebrations we had the privilege of hosting a baithak, or private concert, of a percussion artist who is possibly one of the youngest to be called an ustaad!!

This man is a disciple of the great ustaad Allah Rakha Khan, and his son ustaad amjad Ali Khan, who are pioneers of the Punjab Gharana who are, well, I’d love to go on but I can’t because, unfortunately, I am completely ignorant of this instrument and music in general.

However, this doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the instrument or the way it’s played and I certainly can recognize the pleasant from the ear-splitting!

So, when my friend, Uday, recommended that I hear Aditya Kalyanpur play it was a great opportunity for us at nilgiri’s to have him play in front of about 80 guests. As each guest arrived they were given masala vadai with a mocktail.

Then the music began and it did not disappoint!!

The young master played.

And he played non stop for nearly 2 hours!!

Whilst the music filled up the room, the guests were then served biryani in a box and on and on it went. Amazing!


He played tukras and he played kaydas from the Punjab Gharana, mesmerising the guests with his artistry and mastery that he has picked up from his master ustaad Allah Raakha.

The dessert we served was cardamom and pistachio kulfi, how else to try and mimic the joy of the music with the joy of a kulfi!

It was a privilege to have this young man come and play. It was great to have the food, the atmosphere that this night brought.

I want to have many, many more nights like this where young talents come and create something special at nilgiri’s. So, if you’re an aspiring artist (and we know the many forms this can take, from dance to illustration to music, ancient or modern), let me know!

If we can foster our young artists, if we can show off their skills, then that’s great. I’ll do the cooking and they can do the entertaining!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!

This dish is the crowning accomplishment in any Indian chef’s career!!

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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!

biryani garam masala: includes cassia, cardamom, clove, black cardamom, nutmeg, mace, bayleaf, peppercorn, fennel

On a recent visit to my ‘spiritual hometown’, Hyderabad, I was shocked to hear that there were only six gharana chefs (called khansamas) still alive who could cook the classic dish kachche gosht ki biryani!

This dish was considered to be the ultimate measure of a chef’s skill that would guarantee him the title of “Masterchef”, if he could create it.

These artistes were a breed apart, and in the 60s and 70s they were the only people invited to cook for the Nawab and the Nizam families.

So what became of these ustaads?

Speaking to some of the local residents of the old city, I was told that the fine art of making kachche gosht ki biryani was all but lost as it was becoming surpassed by poorer versions.

A classic kachche gosht ki biryani requires genuine patience and untold love, what we call fursat and mohabbat, and there were plenty of those virtues and emotions, alive and kicking, in the land of the Biryanis!! This Biryani is made with partially cooked rice being layered on top of marinated meat which is ‘raw’ and is then ‘dum cooked’ till the meat and rice come out perfectly cooked!!

However, as the years have passed, people seem to have lost their love for really good, slow food, that is cooked with genuine expertise, and with that they have also, sadly, lost the creators of the dishes along the way.

Most of these chefs ended up dying penniless. What a shame for us all, because not only did we lose the art of cooking this dish properly, we also lost a genuine knowledge base and mentoring.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as I was extremely lucky to meet one of the ‘survivors’ of this fine art a long time ago.

It was the way he cooked, and the narrative he gave whilst cooking this classic dish, when I had the privilege of working with him, that I’d like to share with you this week.

The ustaad starts by describing the dish as khuda ki daen, meaning G-d’s gift’, and says that it is all about technique and constant, constant practise. Furthermore, he adds, chewing his paan with great relish, the more you try the better you become and, of course, the closer you get to All-h!!

Friends, on the 15th anniversary of nilgiri’s, we salaam these ustaads for helping us preserve this ancient art!!

So, here is my version of the classic kachche gosht ki biryani. It is cooked with deep respect, with patience, with love, and home-made garam masala. What more could one want?!

The dish revolves around six basic techniques:

1. The caramelisation of the onions.
2. The making of garam masala (click here for its recipe).
3. The marination of the meat.
4. The cooking of the rice until it is ek kan or al dente.
5. The layering of the rice over the marinated meat.
6. The dum (baking) of the dish.

Ingredients

Ingredients for biryani, clockwise: caramelised onions, crushed ginger, crushed garlic, garam masala, ground chilli, turmeric, crushed chillies, salt, chopped coriander leaves, chopped mint leaves, yoghurt, saffron threads [soaked in milk]

saffron-infused milk

caramelised onions

To make caramelised onions, watch my caramelised onions video

1 kg goat meat [on the bone], soaked in water to remove any blood

Marinating the goat
Step 1

add half caramelised onions and fold

Step 2

add garlic and fold, then add ginger and fold

Step 3

next add garam masala and fold

For the garam masala recipe, click biryani garam masala recipe.

Step 4

add crushed chillies and fold

Step 5

add 1/2 of the chilli powder and fold

Step 6

add turmeric and fold

Step 7

add 1/2 each of the coriander and mint, and fold

Step 8

add yoghurt and fold

Step 9

add 2 tablespoons oil and fold

Step 10

add 1/2 saffron-infused milk and fold

Step 11

set aside marinated goat for about 1 1/2 hours

Preparing the pot

Step 1

place goat in a large pot so it occupies 1/3 of the pot and add the remaining chilli powder. Do not clean the mixing bowl previously used to marinade the meat

Step 2

add remaining chopped coriander and mint to create a layer

Step 3

add remaining caramelised onions to create a layer

Step 4

set pot aside

Preparing the rice

Step 1

place rice in mixing bowl then add enough water so rice is covered by 2cm of water

Step 2

the rice will absorb the water – when it touches the top of the water the rice is ready to go into boiling water

Step 3

place water in the empty bowl in which you marinated the goat, swill it around, and then pour it into a large saucepan an bring to a boil

Step 4

drain rice and add to boiling water

Step 5

stir rice, but gradually, so the grains don’t break

Step 6

cook rice until it rises to the surface and the water has returned to the boil

Step 7

Cooking the biryani

add drained rice to saucepan containing marinated goat

Step 2

add remaining saffron milk on top of the rice

Step 3

place damp tea-towel on top of the rice

Step 4

Make a soft dough with wholemeal flour, pinch of salt and water (you’ll find full quantities for this in the one-page recipe below).

place dough collar around rim of pot

Step 5

place a lid on top of the pot and seal the gap with the dough

Step 6

half fill saucepan with water and heat pot on moderate  heat

Step 7

when steam escapes from the dough collar the biryani is starting to cook

Step 8

reduce heat and place pot in pre-heated fan forced oven [160C]. When the dough is cooked the biryani is cooked as well after about 1hr !!

Step 9

remove pot and saucepan and break off dough

Step 10

remove tea-towel

Step 11

mix rice and goat together

Step 12

serve KGKB with a mirch ka saalan!

If the Biryani is called the king of Indian Food, then KGKB is called the king of Biryanis!!

Click biryani for a one-page recipe and also, click mirchi ka salaan for a one-page recipe of this delicious, tangy side dish.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Three different classes over three days, but one common question. . .

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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!

Last week was a bit hectic and challenging as I had to change my ‘gears’ quickly to go from a fast paced class for about 60 students at the Sydney Seafood School [SSS] on Thursday, to an easy paced corporate team building cooking class for about 12 participants at the restaurant the next day.

nilgiri’s corporate team building cooking class

Those two classes were followed by our highly rated regular class on Saturday for 12 students, as per usual.

The difference between the three classes is great fun for me because all of them are about cooking Indian food. Furthermore, all of them let me showcase my cuisine through my words and my actions!! I just love it like that!!!

But the one question that all the students had in common was this: “If you were to use only one spice and no more in your cooking, which one would it be, and why?”

My answer is very simple and has not changed over all the years I’ve been cooking.

“Give me the king of spices and I can cook you a dish, or a meal, without you ever knowing what the added spice was.”

Well almost. You might just guess.

However, it is not about my cooking that makes it hard to guess what the spice is as much as it is about the versatility of this spice.

Can you guess what it is?

And no, it’s not the ones you’re thinking of, I guarantee.

What did you guess?

Coriander seeds?

Cumin seeds?

(And no, please, not the dreaded ‘curry powder’ that someone suggested. I don’t think they’ll make that suggestion again!)

You still don’t know?

Okay.

It’s black peppercorns or kali mirch!!

There is plenty of information that one can get on what pepper is, and how to get it, and what the botanical name is and blah, blah, blah. . . but I am not going there. You’re welcome to go there in your own time, please be my guest!

But what I am going to do is tell you about the food we cooked in the three classes.

Each class was so different but in each one the common spice used was pepper.

So, adding pepper at different stages during cooking gets completely different results, and all of them are b….y good!! [Now, before I go any further, I must confess to the excessive use of the word ‘bl…y’ in my blogs. I have been asked by my best well-wisher, Aai, my mother, to tone it down. So, as of now the word is to be read ‘b….y’ for BEAUTY!!]  Happy Aai?

So, let’s start at the fish markets where I was invited to give a class.

Basically, the cooking class at the SSS is a 2 hour hands-on class which means the students get to cook two dishes from start to finish.

The first is an entrée and the second a main course served with steamed Basmati rice.

I love doing classes at the SSS because it’s such fun but also because it’s like performing on stage.

You get 1 hour to perform and show how the dishes are cooked and then the students move to a state-of-the-art kitchen to recreate the dishes.

So, I showed them how to make crab chettinad using blue swimmer crabs and karwari prawns, using fresh prawns.

The recipe for crab chettinad uses cinnamon, cardamom and cloves as part of a ‘whole garam masala’ followed by the ubiquitous ginger and garlic and peppercorns.

The crushed peppercorns are added right at the end of cooking the dish so that the pepper flavour is fresh and pungent.

At the team building class the next day we made, besides a few other dishes, yerra varuval (pan-fried marinated prawns). Here, the prawns were marinated right at the beginning with crushed peppercorns and other spices. This method creates a superb pepper crust on the prawns when they are tossed in a wok.

We also made a rasam using lentils and tomatoes which was then tempered with black mustard seeds, cumin and whole peppercorns.

The following day, in our scheduled class on Kerala cuisine, we made a moplah style biryani using chicken, rather than goat, and added ground garam masala, which includes pepper, after the chicken was seared and before the partially cooked rice was added to the chicken.

So, to summarise the versatility of this wonderful spice here is my altered recipe for crab chettinad that uses only black peppercorns as a spice throughout the recipe. Yes, that’s right!

There are no whole spices and no ground chillies. Just pepper all the way!!

At the first stage, whole peppercorns are added to the hot oil to create an infusion. Adding the peppercorns to the hot oil ensures that the peppercorn flavour will permeate through the onions and the rest of the ingredients, including the crab.

At the second stage, crushed peppercorns are added to give the dish some ‘bite’.

And finally, as I mentioned before, at the third stage, the freshly ground pepper is added right at the end to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish; just like we add ground pepper to our soups!!

STEP 1

Here is my recipe for Crab Chettinad using only pepper!:

apply 1/2 tsp turmeric to cleaned and cut crab. This recipe uses about 2 kgs mud crabs. [Turmeric is an excellent antioxidant and reduces any bacteria that might be in the crabs.]

Put cleaned crabs in the fridge whilst preparing the sauce.

STEP 2

To make the sauce:

heat oil until it just starts smoking, then add 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns; let peppercorns crackle [heating peppercorns this way creates an infusion].

STEP 3

add 3 chopped onions and salt to pepper-infused oil [salt prevents the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pan]. Reduce heat to medium and let onions caramelise.

STEP 4

when onions are almost golden, add 2 sprigs fresh kari leaves and let crackle.

STEP 5

add 1 tbsp crushed garlic to onions, fold until garlic is caramelised.

STEP 6

then add 1 tbsp crushed ginger and fold until mixture is golden.

STEP 7

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns, to give the sauce ‘bite’, and fold.

STEP 8

add 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped and cook well.

STEP 9

cook till tomatoes are soft and oil leaves the side of the pan.

STEP 10

It’s now time to remove the crab pieces from the fridge.

add crabs and fold gently.

STEP 11

cover pan and cook until crabs become red [approx. 15-20 minutes].

STEP 12

the crabs are now cooking, yum!!

STEP 13

remove crabs from pot and then finish preparing the sauce.

STEP 14

set crabs aside whilst preparing sauce.

STEP 15

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns and kari leaves to sauce for that extra ‘oomph’!

STEP 16

add juice of 1/4 lemon and season to taste.

STEP 17

add crabs to finished sauce, replace lid and cook for a few minutes.

STEP 18

to plate, remove crabs and arrange on serving dish.

STEP 19

pour sauce on top of crabs.

STEP 20

add a few fresh coriander leaves, to serve.

STEP 21

ready, set, go, attack!

STEP 22

voilà! the easiest and best crab chettinad!!

So, all we need to go along with this dish is some soft steamed Basmati rice. (Click Basmati rice to see how to prepare this delicious accompaniment.)

And there you have it. A most versatile spice used in three different ways in the same recipe.

If you’d like to try another classic version of this dish, please click crab chettinand recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!

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