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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!!

Kashmiri Rogan Josh Pandit style

Another week, another blog, folks.

This dish is one of my favourites. When the rogan rises to the top, letting you know that after a long, slow cooking it’s ready to be eaten, it’s sheer joy!

So, let’s get started!

Here is a step-by-step version of this delicious Kashmiri ‘classic’ rogan josh recipe.

you can make this delicious Kashmiri rogan josh dish

For this recipe I use:

1 kg diced goat on the bone

diced goat meat left on the bone

First of all, we grind all the spices that we use to marinate our meat.

½ tsp ground Kashmiri chillies

Kashmiri chillies and ground Kashmiri chillies

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground green cardamoms

green cardamoms and ground cardamom

½ tsp ground black cardamoms

black cardamoms

¼ tsp ground cloves

cloves and ground cloves

½ tsp ground black peppercorns

whole and ground peppercorns

½ tsp ground fennel seeds

fennel seeds and ground fennel

I add the marinating spices one at a time.

adding one ground spice at a time

adding another ground spice

Press the spices into the meat, then set aside for a few minutes.

pressing the spices into the meat

Over high heat, heat saucepan for a few moments then add ½ cup vegetable oil.

adding the vegetable oil to the hot pan

Heat the oil until it starts smoking.

Reduce heat and add 1-inch cinnamon stick and 2-4 whole black cardamoms and 4–6 whole green cardamoms.

adding the green cardamoms

Add 6–8 whole cloves and 1 tsp whole peppercorns and increase heat.

heating the whole spices

Add 1 tsp whole fennel seeds and the marinated goat and fold the meat so it is coated with the oil.

adding the marinated goat

Cook until the meat is caramelised.

caramelising the meat

Add 1 tsp ground asafoetida and 1½ tsp dry ginger powder and fold into the meat and cook for 1 minute. Add salt to taste and fold into the meat. Next, add 1½ tbs ground Kashmiri chillies and fold into the meat, followed by ¼ cup rattan jot infusion.

adding rattan jot infused in hot oil

Beat 2 cups whole-milk yoghurt and then add to the pan.

adding the yoghurt

folding the yoghurt into the meat

Then gently fold the yoghurt until it thoroughly coats the meat.

Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about 1½ hours, or until the meat is cooked and the rogan (red oil) comes to the surface.

the finished product…note the oil has risen to the surface

Serve with boiled, or steamed, Basmati rice and naan bread, if you wish.

This really is a velvety stew to die for!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!

A baby eggplant dish, you will love it !!

It is easy to cook, that means even a novice can make it!!

It has no onions, no garlic and no ginger, that means even the Jains can eat it!!

It has no dairy, that means it is great for vegans!! (I made another dish like this, so if you’re eager to try this recipe, you might also really like this one, too!)

It takes very little time to prepare [assuming that you already have your own garam masala ready]!!

It is an adaptation of Mumbai Maushi’s recipe of hirvya masalachi vangi [which literally means eggplant cooked in a green masala]!

And last, but not least, this is the first time my son has eaten an eggplant dish, and a vegan one to boot, and he just loved it. So, thank you Maushi !!

To celebrate the beginning of the festive season and the end of Navratri, which literally means nine nights, here is my little contribution to all those who believe in this biannual festival.

I hope you enjoy the last few days of Navratri. . .

So, here’s how we make hirvya masalachi vangi:


1.  1 kg baby eggplants

2.  1/2 cup polyunsaturated vegetable oil

3.  1 tablespoon asafoetida

4.  salt, to taste

5.  1 tablespoon turmeric

6.  2 tablespoons garam masala (please see the recipe for garam masala for vegetables)

ingredients from left to right: vegetable oil, asafoetida, salt, turmeric, garam masala & baby eggplant (centre)

Green masala ingredients:

1.  1/2 fresh coconut grated, or 1/2 cup coconut powder

2.  1 bunch fresh coriander

3.  4-6 fresh green chillies

4.  1 teaspoon peppercorns

5.  2 cups of water

ingredients for green masala from left to right: grated fresh coconut, fresh coriander leaves, green chillies & peppercorns


1.  Preheat the oven to 150 C. Slit the eggplants into quarters but do not cut totally through.

slitting the eggplant

make the second slit

eggplant should look like this

do the same for all the eggplants

2.  In a thick bottom pot, heat the oil till it is about to smoke, reduce the heat and add the asafoetida.

heat oil

add the asafoetida

3.  Add the slit eggplants, and gently fold them till they are coated with the oil. Now add the salt.

add the eggplant

fold gently

the eggplant will start to colour lightly

it is ready for the salt when it starts to split open

add salt

fold gently

4.  Add the turmeric followed by half the garam masala. Fold gently.

add the turmeric

fold gently

add half the garam masala

fold gently

5.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven for about 20 minutes, or till the eggplants are soft.

cover & place pot in oven

cook till eggplant is soft

6.  In the meantime, prepare the green masala by placing the coconut, coriander, chillies and peppercorns in a blender, add 1 cup of water and blend to a fine chatni [paste].

add the ingredients for the green masala to the mixer

add water

grind green masala/chatni to a fine paste

7.  Remove pot from the oven and add the green chatni, and the remaining cup of water, to the pot. Fold gently and either place the pot on top of the stove or replace in the oven for about 30 minutes, or till the oil rises to the surface.

add green masala/chatni to the soft eggplant

add remaining water to the mixer bowl, mix well & add all the liquid to the eggplant

fold gently till the masala coats the eggplant

cover with lid & cook in the oven for about 30 minutes

the masala is cooked when the oil rises to the surface

8.  Sprinkle the remaining garam masala on top and serve with a hot roti, or chappati, or even moist boiled rice!!

sprinkle remaining garam masala

mumbai maushi’s hirvya masalachi vangi

Happy Navratri and now back to some serious meat eating from. . .!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

You’ve got the spices – now let’s meet the Spice Merchant of Australia. . .

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Who is this Spice Merchant?

Well, he was born and raised on a farm in Dural which is about 50 kilometres from Sydney.

He grew up in a family where the topic of conversation at the dining table was, no, not cricket, or rugby, or soccer, but yes, you’ve guessed it, herbs and spices!! His parents were one of the first families in Australia to start a herb nursery.

The world knows him as ‘Herbie’.

I know him as Ian Hemphill, the ‘spice man’!!

I met Ian and Liz (his wife and business partner) by chance when. . .

Liz and Herbie Hemphill

Well, here goes. . .

In August 1997, Meera and I cut short our trip around the globe when our doctor, Dr Lele,  advised us to return to Sydney, ASAP, as Meera was showing signs of discomfort. She was pregnant with our son, Aniruddh, and the doctor felt it was important to return back to base in case there was any. . .! Well, you know what could happen!

So we left the USA and came straight back to Sydney  just as the doctor had ordered!!

On our return we found that Meera was doing just fine, and so was the unborn baby, so there was no cause for any concern. Phew!!

So, with Meera and the, as yet, unborn baby sorted (for the moment!) it was time to look for opportunities in Sydney.

As you might guess, this ‘something’ had to be food related and definitely had to be Indian.

Prior to going overseas we had sold our share of the business that we had run for nearly six years and it was now time to look for new range of mountains to climb!!

We thought of starting a small-scale catering business, or a cooking school, or even a small Indian cafe. As our discussions grew, we also thought of starting a small spice shop selling our own range of spice mixes along with our own pickles and marinades.

Meera had read in the papers about a new spice shop, called ‘Herbie’s’, that had recently opened in a suburb called Rozelle.

Herbie’s shop in Rozelle, NSW

Ah, we thought, it’ll be another kirana shop [you know these, the local owner-operated, small-scale store, the ‘corner shop’] and so we decided to pay a visit to see what was so special about it and why it had been written up in the newspaper.

Well, when we entered the shop we were absolutely blown away by what was on offer.

This was not just another kirana store! This was a spice temple.

It was unlike any other spice shop we had seen before anywhere in the world.

The man behind the counter greeted us with a smile; he knew what spice went well with meat or fish; he knew what the constituents of garam masala were and he spoke with knowledge and authority.

Well, this blew me away. Never, in my 16 or so years (well, it’d be more years now!) of cooking Indian food had I come across someone who knew so much about so many spices, without once referring to a book!!

And to top it all, this man was white.

“Surely, I said to Meera quietly, “this man must be Anglo-Indian, or he’s probably a white migrant from India, just like the family in Bondi who run a spice shop.”

Meera gestured for me to keep my thoughts to myself as we were led to a small, but compact, nursery adjacent to the shop.

And there it was. A healthy, green curry leaf tree. For Meera this was the true measure of someone who knew his herbs.

Indians believe that anyone who can grow a curry leaf tree, and then sell it, knows a thing or two about herbs!!

My knowledge of spices was pretty good, or so I thought, until I did a spice appreciation class with Ian a few weeks later.

And this is where Ian’s knowledge really came to the fore. This man is one of the world’s foremost authorities on herbs and spices. He’s written countless books on spices, cookery books and runs Spice Appreciation classes which are extremely informative.

During his class I realised there was a lot more I had to learn about spices.

The knowledge this man possesses is unbelievable! He is a walking encyclopaedia on herbs and spices. He even gives Spice Tours to India about discovering 12 spices . These tours are  so good,  India Tourism awarded Herbie’s Spice Discovery Tour an Award of Excellence (But hurry, as he and LIz won’t be going to India after January 2013!)

Well, we veered away from our idea of a small spice shop, I mean, how does one compete with Herbie’s, and we decided to start nilgiri’s, a dream that we had been ruminating over for a long while. Ian sent us a bouquet of cinnamon quills on our opening night and I still have it!!

Well, since starting nilgiri’s our appreciation and respect for Ian has grown stronger with each passing year. And I’m saying this 15 years down the track!

a treasure trove of spices

One year we decided to give all our staff a copy of Ian’s book, Spice Travels, and another year we gave our ‘Employee of the Year’ a copy of Ian’s masterpiece, Spice Notes. This is a book all aspiring Indian chefs must possess if they want to have a better understanding of their cuisine! And yes, it’s written, not by an Anglo-Indian but by a real ‘fair dinkum’ Aussie!

On the 15th anniversary of nilgiri’s we thought we should salaam this spice man who, I think, has single-handedly tried to tell the whole world the importance and fun of using different spices and herbs in their cooking.

I tell all the students who do my classes that Indian food is all about understanding the ‘nuts and bolts’, or to keep it in context!, the ‘herbs and spices’ and that there is no better place to source these, and no better person to tell you about them, than Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill.

Here is an excerpt of a conversation I had recently with Ian and Liz which, to me, sums them up so well.

“Ian,” I asked, “How, when and why did you get the name Herbie, because I think of you more as a ‘spice man’, than a ‘herb man’?”

With his customary warm smile he told me, “When I was a boy at school, my classmates thought it very funny that my parents had a herb nursery and wrote books on herbs and spices. ‘Herbie’ was a nice alliteration with the surname Hemphill, and the school nickname followed me as I went into adulthood, and has been used by both close friends and business associates ever since.”

Well, you can’t argue with that! But I had so many more questions and here are some more that always intrigued me.

“What,” I asked, “according to you, is the difference between a herb and a spice?”

Without so much as a pause, Ian said that he defined a herb as the leaf of a plant e.g. bay leaves, coriander leaves, and etc., and that a spice uses any other part of the plant such as the roots, buds, bark, berries, and even stigma in the case of saffron. He continued to say that we get both a herb and a spice from plants, such as fennel or coriander, because we use both the leaves and the seeds.

Herbie amongst the cardamom plants in India

“If you were to pick an all-time favourite herb or spice, which one would it be and why?”

Liz chose black pepper, mainly, she added, because people tend to forget it’s a spice, and it’s necessary for so many foods, even a simple tomato sandwich. (And I couldn’t agree more, see last week’s blog about the versatility of this seemingly straightforward spice.)

Ian said that he would choose green cardamom, because it adds light and life to both sweet and savoury dishes. For example, he said that a curry without cardamom would be flat and dull, and who could imagine something sweet without the fragrance of cardamom? A man after my own heart!

“What’s your favourite spice story from your travels to India?”

Ian starts, “We were visiting the spice markets in Chandani Chowk, Old Delhi, when a shop owner sprang out and said: ‘You’re Herbie – I was on your website last night!” And Herbie described how he was embraced by this spice owner in a bear hug of spicy-brotherhood affection! He continued, “We thought it was amazing, in a city of so many millions, to be recognised as we walked down the street.”

And my final question had to be about recipes. Well, of course!

Herbie in a spice store to die for!

“Would you and Liz be kind enough to share your favourite recipe?” And I suggested we could cook it together!!

Well, they chose delhi dahl as they said it was a dish they always encountered in Delhi during the winter, and that it was so easy to make at home.

So, here is Ian and Liz’s delhi dahl recipe.

[Serves 4-6]

2 x 420g cans red kidney beans, undrained

1½ teaspoons Madras turmeric

½ teaspoon each of asafoetida, chilli powder, chilli flakes

1 medium onion, puréed or grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 tablespoon ghee or butter

1½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 x 420 g can chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons plain yoghurt


Fresh coriander leaves, to serve

Combine undrained beans, turmeric, chilli and asafoedita in a saucepan and heat to simmering point. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes to let flavours combine.

Mix onion, garlic and ginger in a bowl. Drain the beans, reserving 250 ml of the liquid.

Heat the butter, or ghee, add cumin and mustard seeds and let crackle.  Then add, in the following order: onion, garlic, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and garam masala, yoghurt, beans and reserved liquid, stirring well after each addition. Add salt, to taste, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Garnish with a generous amount of fresh coriander leaves and serve with rice or Indian bread.

And I had to ask, last but not least, “And your best ‘spice pick-up’ line is?”

“May your life be peppered with many enjoyable spice experiences!”

Well, I can’t beat that but to conclude, Ian’s book, Spice Travels, is full of such amazing experiences. I particularly enjoyed one where he meets the ‘Cardamom King of the World’, AKA, Mr Jose, in a place called Periyar. . . but that’s another story which I don’t have the time for. So, go and read his book!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

One dish, one name, many versions, all authentic . . . welcome to Indian food!!

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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!

a simple soup, or a starter, for Mother's Day buffet at nilgiri's !!

Its time for Mother’s Day and, as always, there is a lot happening at nilgiri’s.

It’s hectic!

Srinivas, my Hyderabadi and kebab chef is returning to India, after two years with us, to be with his family. He will spend Mother’s Day in Hyderabad. He has been planning this for some (well, quite a long) time now, to be with his daughter, and son and his beloved wife . . . I am sure he will have a great time! Enjoy your holiday mate!! See you in July!!

Srinivas' family: daughter Anisha, wife Aish and son Asif

But for now, as well as farewelling a friend and colleague, my mind is focusing on getting organised for Mother’s Day!

What do we need for this special day?

Well, we need a menu and we need a theme and we need it ‘now’.

Every single year, since we moved into the present premises, we have had a special theme whether it’s celebrating something like Mother’s Day or just celebrating our food!

For example, one year we focused on the ‘coastal food of India’, then another year we did a buffet and called it ‘roadside stalls of India’.

A few years ago we did food from the ‘North West Frontier Province’, then there was ‘Calcutta Chowringhee Chat’, and. . . Well, this is a new year and we need new ideas so I call a meeting with all the staff, from both the front and back of house, to discuss possible themes, the menu, the pricing, the marketing, and much more besides!

Marketing is Meera’s domain, and with around 7,000 people on the nilgiri’s mailing list her job is quite a ‘cakewalk’, or so we all think! There’s always more to it than meets the eye and at the end of the day we need bu*s on seats and Meera generally delivers!!

So, the menu is the next big challenge but before we start composing that there is the ‘theme’ that we need to come up with and with Mother’s Day around the corner that seems to guide us.

So, we all agree on” maa ki rasoi “ as in ‘mum’s kitchen but with a difference’!

So, with a twist on the usual meaning of that phrase, the staff are going to cook their favourite dish for their mum and not the other way around! It is Mother’s day after all and mum is not cooking, not today!!

We agree that each staff member will come up with a starter and a main dish to feature on the menu. That’s easy! What is challenging is to select a dish and reject another as each staff member has such a vast array of dishes they want to use.

So, my job is to set the emotional part aside and decide from the long list of dishes that have been chosen for gastronomic, fond memories and many other personal reasons, what will work on the day.

I try to keep things very simple, as always. If it sounds good and looks good, well, it’s on the list!! After all, we are all professionals and we know what mum will like even if we have to discard a dish that our mum used to make us which carries us back to when we were kids!

So, after much deliberation we proudly present our 2012 Mother’s Day Sunday Buffet menu!

I am planning on making a soup for maa ki rasoi. With winter creeping around the corner, particularly mornings and evenings, I am planning on  my soup as a ‘warm’ starter.

The soup could be shorba from the north or a rasam from the south, but I decide on a kadhi that hails from either Maharashtra, Gujarat or Punjab.  It is one of my favourite starters and can be served with or without the dumplings. (Interestingly, the west coast version of this soup is generally served cold and has no yoghurt added, it is called sol kadhi and uses coconut, another one for our vegan friends!)

Anyway, with this soup in mind I ask the staff to come up with a recipe for our own kadhi. I’ve got to focus on other things and letting them get the recipe makes my job ‘easy’, after all I am the chef!

I am absolutely dumbstruck when all the staff come back to me with a recipe for a ‘hot’ kadhi that their mother makes and they all swear that this is the best and most authentic!

So, one by one they come to me with their own personalised version.

Kiran Hariyani, who is part Sindhi, part Punjabi, part Maharashtrian, comes up with a sindhi kadhi that uses tamarind along with yoghurt and she claims, most adamantly, that this is the most authentic version!

She also claims to have a recipe for a Maharashtrian kadhi. I am aware of this version as it is one that uses very little chickpea flour and no turmeric. If you do not trust me, ask my mum!!

Then comes Akhil, who is from Chandigarh, and his recipe includes chopped onions both in the kadhi and in the dumplings.

Durga Prasad – who is a new addition to the team and is probably the only ‘international’ chef in my kitchen, having worked in hotels from Mumbai to Hong Kong to London to Zurich to New York and Sydney – has a kadhi recipe from Benaras (Varanasi in UP) which uses extremely sour yoghurt and has a bay leaf added to it. His recipe also includes dumplings. Most unique!!

Then there’s Nishant Shah, he’s the Gujju Bhai in my team, and he swears that only Gujaratis can make a good kadhi. “Yes Nishant,” I say, “but you add a bit of sugar to yours.” “But chef! That is what makes it a kadhi.” he replies most passionately! He also knows a thing or two about a Rajasthani kadhi which includes cassia, cloves, fennel seeds and kari leaves in the tempering!! Rajasthani kadhi also  includes dumplings.

Parsees also make a kadhi called dahi ni cudhi and this version is one of my favorites.

If you ever get Babu from the Taj Bombay to make it for you you will forget Babu but not his cudhi, it’s just brilliant (remember Babu from the Parsee blog? No? Okay, then click Parsee Food – a beautiful yatra).

Then there is the Bihari version which has no turmeric added but incorporates garam masala in the tempering!! How amazing is that?!!

So, as you can see, a simple (“simple”) starter of a soup, a so-called straightforward kadhi, can be so diverse and intricate with hundreds of localised versions. This sort of thing can only happen with Indian food. This soup (and no, it’s not a cur*y my dear friends) is a staple dish to most Indians in the north just like the rasam is to the people of the south!
Southern Indians have rasam towards the end of the meal with rice whilst the northerners have kadhi for the same reason!!

Finally, after hearing all these wonderful versions of the same dish I decide it’s time I put my head-chef’s hat on. So, I create a kadhi recipe of my own for Mother’s Day, and tell the staff, “It is my way or the. . .”!

This recipe is in four parts: the soup, the dumplings, the tempering and then combining them all together. However, if you want to see a one-page version of the recipe, please click nilgiri’s kadhi pakodi.

Ingredients for the soup

left to right: yoghurt, buttermilk, thinned down yoghurt, turmeric, salt

Ingredients for the tempering

right to left starting from the 9 o'clock position: oil, black mustard seeds, brown cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, dry red chillies, asafoetida (ground), chilli powder, fresh kari leaves, fresh coriander leaves

Ingredients for the dumplings

left to right: spinach leaves (washed), ginger powder, brown cumin seeds, salt, green chillies, oil, chickpea flour

Utensils required

paper towel steel bowl, slotted spoon or a spider spoon

Part 1 – the soup

Step 1

add yoghurt to a large saucepan and set aside yoghurt container

Step 2

in order to not waste any remaining yoghurt, pour water into yoghurt container, swirl around, and then add to saucepan

Step 3

add buttermilk

Step 4

add thinned down yoghurt – this helps in getting the right consistency, not too thin, not too thick so it's just right!

Step 5

add water and fold if too thick, mixture should be like a thin soup to begin with (before you start cooking)

Step 6

add chickpea flour to water and whisk

Step 7

add turmeric to the chickpea flour mixture and whisk

Step 8

add mixture to saucepan and fold

Step 9

add salt and fold

Step 10

now cook over medium heat and fold regularly till the soup starts to thicken slightly. Do not let boil but slow cook

Part 2 – the dumplings

Step 1

add 2 cups of chickpea flour to a large mixing bowl

Step 2 – preparing the green chillies

lay out the green chillies on a chopping board

remove the stalks by hand

roughly chop green chillies

add chillies to mixing bowl

Step 3

add brown cumin seeds

Step 4

add salt

Step 5

add ginger powder

Step 6

heat plenty of oil in a pan to fry the dumplings – when oil is hot add 2 tablespoons to the dumpling mixture

Step 7

add hot oil to dumpling mixture, this makes the batter light and there is no need to add any baking soda!!

Step 8

add water

Step 9

fold dumpling mixture

Step 10

add torn spinach leaves to dumpling mixture and then add 1 tablespoon of hot oil to temper the leaves

Step 11

fold dumpling mixture

Step 12

don't forget to stir the soup occasionally !

Step 13 – Frying the dumplings

Heat the oil and add the dumplings either by hand or by using a spoon and fork as shown below.

How to add dumplings by hand

adding dumpling mixture by hand

How to add dumplings using a spoon and fork

dunk spoon in water - this will prevent the mixture from sticking

scoop mixture onto spoon

place spoon about 1 inch above oil and scrape off mixture using a fork or spoon

slide mixture into oil - don't let it splash!

Fry dumplings until golden brown

frying dumplings

turn dumplings to ensure they cook evenly

Remove dumplings when golden brown

remove dumplings when golden brown and place on paper towelling

Perfect golden dumplings!

your dumplings will (I hope) look like this!

Part 3 – the tempering

Step 1

add oil to pan and heat until oil starts smoking

Step 2

add black mustard seeds and let crackle

Step 3

add cumin seeds and let crackle

Step 4

add just a few fenugreek seeds and let them pop

Step 5

remove from heat and add coriander seeds

Step 6

and add whole dried chillies

Step 7

then add asafoetida powder

Step 8

and chilli powder

Part 4 – Bringing it all together

Step 1

place kari leaves on top of the hot soup

Step 2

add tempered spices to soup

add soup to pan used for tempering spices, fold, and then pour into soup saucepan - this will minimise waste

Step 3

fold mixture until it thickens, do not let it boil!

Step 4

when soup froths like this, remove from heat. I repeat: do not let it boil!

Step 5

two minutes after turning off the stove, your soup will (again, I hope) look like this

Step 6- Serving suggestions

You can either serve the soup and add dumplings to the plate or you can add dumplings to the soup in the saucepan to infuse them with flavour.

Step 6 A – If adding dumplings to plate

ladle soup into bowl

add dumplings and serve

Step 6B- If adding dumplings to saucepan

add dumplings to saucepan

soak dumplings for 5 minutes

your soup is now ready to serve

kadhi, my favourite soup!!

Well before you disappear into your own ‘rasoi’ , send me a recipe of your favorite ‘kadhi’ and we will publish it in my blogs . How’s that!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

A Tale of Two Classics

the classic Kashmiri, Pandit-style rogan josh

In my 30-odd years of cooking, if there is one lesson I have learnt, it is this: never challenge a customer.

Never. Ever.

Some may agree with this, but there is another school of thought that believes otherwise.

Some chefs in so-called high places believe that a customer is out to get him i.e. that the customer is just someone who wants to prove that he is more knowledgeable than the ‘Creator’, that is, the chef!

Well, it is not true.

Or so I thought till this happened. . .

At nilgiri’s we change our menu every month, that’s right, every month and we have been doing this since we opened our doors way back in 1998.

It’s no mean task doing this!

Every single menu that is made goes through a process where the menu is checked for its right balance in terms of taste, colour, chilli level and its visual appeal.

Of course, as most of you will know by now, we also believe that there is no such thing as ‘authentic’ when it comes to Indian food though there are some classic dishes that shouldn’t be played around with.

Apart from that, the rules are simple.

Every dish must have its own character, name and an identity, if not it’s best called a ‘curry’!! We don’t have curries in my restaurant.

Again, and this is my mantra in an attempt to educate, Indian food is not curries.

Anyway, let’s get back to my story.

Some months ago we had a group of tourists who were visiting Sydney and decided to dine at my restaurant, excellent!

During that month we were doing food from the North-West Frontier and Kashmir.

Food from this region is one of my favourites, after Hyderabadi food of course!!

Anyway, we had some classics like gosht rogan josh (made with goat meat) followed by kadhai murgh, tsoont wangan, muj gard, and so on. . .

The orders are taken, the food served. All is going well, so far.

As a general practice, my waiters check on the diners at various points during their meal to see if everything is going well.

Table number 12 stops one of the waiters and says loud and clear so that every diner in my restaurant can hear, “This is not rogan josh!”

And he doesn’t stop at the rogan josh.

He continues, pointing at another dish saying, as loudly, “And this is no balti chicken, I want to speak to the manager!”

Firstly, there’s a slight problem here as we don’t have managers and secondly, all of my frontline staff are capable of taking decisions themselves as they’re highly trained  competent individuals.

However, because this diner insisted on speaking to someone whom he thought was ‘higher’ than a ‘mere waiter’ my staff knew that the best bet was for me to face the music!

I approach the table smiling and ask, “Sir, how can I help?”

“This is rubbish.” comes the reply.

“What is it that you don’t like, Sir?”

Again, he points at the dish saying, “This is no balti chicken, it is too hot and there’s not enough coconut cream!”

“Okay.” I respond, “And the rogan josh?”

The man shifts in his seat and continues, pointing at the rogan josh accusingly, “It is too thin, it’s not like the ‘curry’ we get in. . .”

And it is here that my patience is tried and my knowledge, pardon me, won’t be held in check.

I am no spring chicken and I do know a thing or two about Indian food.

So, I mentally rolled up my sleeves and launched into my explanation.

I tried to explain that there is no coconut cream in balti chicken, which in India is called kadhai murgh, but no sooner had these words fallen from my mouth I realised that the guest was not one bit interested in what I was saying.

I wasn’t trying to justify myself, I was simply just trying to explain why the food served was the way it was!

Anyway, as became clear the other diners at the table were enjoying themselves thoroughly, eating their meal whilst this exchange was taking place, but not this man.

He was a tourist who had seen a little, heard a little and tasted a little of a cuisine that is over 1000 years old and from this small knowledge he felt he knew it all.

It was later revealed that he had only eaten Indian food in England and had never even been to India!

So, my point here is that Indian food is, indeed, very simple and its origin, history, and name are straightforward.

However, and this is what my guest wasn’t au fait with, sometimes the same dish may have more than one interpretation, or recipe.

So, let’s try and understand this in a little more detail, if you don’t mind.

Kadhai chicken in India originates from a region called Baltistan in the North-West Frontier region of the disputed territory of Kashmir. (However, let’s stick to food only and not get into the political issues here!)

The region is rugged and has a very extreme climate.

It is wedged in-between Kashmir, Tibet, Gilgit and China.

Very little is grown there due to its harsh climate, and so the food is a reflection of the region and its produce.

Most dishes are served either dry or semi-dry.

Rice is not commonly eaten and the staple starch is either roti or naan.

This dish is popular in England, as well, especially in Birmingham and is called ‘Balti chicken’.

For some go…fors..en reason beyond my understanding, coconut cream got added to this dish in some quirk of translation, perhaps more suited to the palate there.

Coconut is not even grown in Baltistan and I don’t think the natives of this region would ever add it to their food!

So, let’s take the other classic dish rogan josh:

black peppercorns



fennel seeds


This dish comes from Kashmir.

The two main communities who live here, the Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits, eat meat (lamb and goat) and make this classic dish.

The Muslims add onions and garlic to the dish whereas the Pandits make it without onions and garlic.

Hence the Pandits’ dish is light and the sauce is thin to look at but by no means light to taste.

It is, in fact, extremely tasty and one does’t miss the onions at all!

In fact, the recipe that follows has been with me since 1981 and was given to me by my friend Chetan Kak’s mother when I was in Delhi training at The Oberois.

The dish is made with slightly fatty goat meat left on the bone to bring out the rogan which in Persian means ‘red oil’.

The recipe uses all the regular spices that go into the making of rogan josh, namely cassia (or cinnamon), green and black cardamoms, cloves and it then uses ground fennel seeds to add that unique flavour to the dish.

Instead of using onions and garlic, this recipe demands the use of asafoetida which is used to add the pungent onion and garlic taste to the meat without actually using them! Fresh ginger is replaced by dried ginger also called saunth.

Tomatoes get replaced by yoghurt which is beaten and added to prevent lumps.

Yoghurt added

The Kashmiri Pandits, I was told, also add a dried herb called rattan jot for the red colour along with Kashmiri chillies which are red and look flaming hot but are not hot to taste.

rattan jot infused with hot oil being added to the goat - to see the blog dedicated to this recipe click rogan josh recipe

The meat is seared in a hot pan/pot with whole spices added before it is put on the dum for about an hour and a half, or till the rogan (oil) rises to the top of the dish! (To read about the man who first showed me how to make this dish, see the blog Ajoy Meets Mr Karir.)

Served with boiled rice, this is one of my favourite dishes and I have asked my son to add this to the “100 dishes to eat before I . . .” list!!

As I shook hands with this group of tourists as they left my restaurant, I realised that there are times when the customer ‘is always right’, times when this isn’t the case and times when education could go a long way, but for the peace of my staff and myself, the teacher needs to realise when his pupils are fully focused, staring out the window or 100% certain they know it all!

If all this talk of cooking is whetting your appetite, please come with me on a step-by-step version of a Kashmiri, Pandit-style rogan josh, by clicking rogan josh recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Chutneys, chatni, pickles, achars and my ajoba

Most people think that chutneys or chatnis or pickles or achars are just fillers, or condiments, that have no serious role to play in an Indian meal.

nilgiri's home made pickles and chutneys

Well, you will be surprised to know that an Indian meal is not complete unless accompanied by either a chatni or an achar. So, what are they?

from front to back mango uurga, chilli pickles, aam ka achar, nimbu ka achar

Before we try to understand them however, as always, here is a little background story to set the scene.

Whilst I was growing up in Hyderabad in the early 60s, whenever the May school holidays came around we went to Nagpur in Maharashtra every year.

This annual trip became a ritual because it was where my grandfather, my mother’s maternal uncle, lived and it was where I spent my summer holidays every single year from 1961 to 1979.

Grandfather was a “registered accountant”, sort of like a “chartered accountant”, just a little different, as I guess he couldn’t afford to pay his fees for the ‘superior’ course to become a fully-fledged chartered accountant. Something called ‘poverty’ had hit him before he was able to make the next ‘grade’.

But this did not stop him from being the best, and the most respected, accountant in his field.

Accountants all over the world are the ones who can either make you look ‘good’ as a business or very ‘ordinary’!

Grandfather treated all his clients the same; it didn’t matter whether you had a small kirana store or a chain of medical clinics, you were not his friend!! His job was to tell you how much you owed the taxman and that was it. Nothing would change as far as the figures were concerned.

But if, for some god for…en reason, you got into trouble he was there to fight your cause and, I am told, ajoba, or grandfather, never lost a single case!!

This was the professional side of ajoba.

sirka pyaaz aka, pickled onions,pujabi style!

When he lost his youngest sister to tuberculosis in the early 1920s, ajoba decided to become my mother’s ‘dad’ as her own father was a ‘guard’ on the Indian Railways, then under British rule, and he was not granted leave on compassionate grounds.

So, my mother’s father had to stay working on the railways, leaving his 6-month-old baby in the care of my ajoba.

Ajoba was more than a father to my mother. He was both mother and father, though mind you he also had his own daughter, who was six months older than my mum, to take care of and what a bl..y good job he did with her too. He sent her to a private school, and then on to the best college in Nagpur at that time so she could get the best possible education. This is the caring, paternal side of my ajoba.

The other side is more colorful and full of tang.

Once I reached Nagpur in the first week of May every year I was in the good care of ajoba.

I would eat, drink, walk and drive everywhere with my grandfather!

Life was great fun. I would also go vegetable shopping with him (this was something that as a young boy I did’t really enjoy, but I never told him, oh no!, for he was, after all, my ajoba).

So, with my reluctance well hidden, every Monday we would go vegetable shopping. Well, we all knew he was good  with numbers, but  the ol’ man was also extremely good at buying and selecting veggies, particularly mangoes and herbs.

In May the mangoes and herbs were at their ‘organic’ best but ajoba still insisted on hand-picking them himself.

Raw, or green, mangoes had to not just look firm but they also had to have a certain aroma that told him if they were right for making pickles.

He had this fascination for pickles and chatnis and said that no meal was ever complete unless it was accompanied with a good achar or chatni.

So ajoba and his little assistant, yours truly, would hand pick each and every green mango, bunch of mint or coriander, to make sure that we got what we wanted.

For my ajoba this was the first step in getting a good pickle or chatni on the table.

from front to back Carrot pickles and fig and honey chutney

As we meandered our way past rows of mangoes and herbs he would say to me, “Son, if the foundation is good the product will rarely go wrong!!”. All of this detail, and smelling, and time, I would think, just for a pickle or a chatni!!

After reaching home it was my job to separate all the veggies into herbs, root veggies, and all the rest, something I follow to this day!

The green mangoes would get wiped (and don’t think this was a job done quickly, we are, after all, talking about 150 kgs of the things), dried and cut along the middle to expose the stone.

If the stone was not fully formed it was used for making something called moramba or murabba, made with the addition of jaggery and spices. The rest of the world calls it chutney!

Front to back garlic and red chilly chatni, date and tamarind chutney, onion chutney, ginger and honey chutney

The green mangoes would then get treated with a mixture that included black mustard seeds, fenugreek with asafoetida and salt along with sesame oil (for a southern style uurga or pickle), or with black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, kalonji seeds (a.k.a nigella seeds) and smoked mustard oil (for a northern style achar or pickle).

Whatever the style, according to my grandfather, a good pickle is never cooked in brine or vinegar but it is allowed to pickle over a period of time in the hot sun till the mangoes break down!!

Now we’re talking real pickles!

Back in the busy kitchen in my grandfather’s house the women folk would then remove the leaves of the fresh coriander and mint to be stone ground with raw mango and green chillies and salt to form a fine paste called chatni.

pudine ki chatni

As I write this, I can’t help but salivate thinking of this green pesto, which would be served to all guests as a part of the thali, to be eaten with a chappati along with sesame oil, a.k.a gingelly oil!

Pure nostalgia!!

So, to sum it all up my friends, chatni is fresh, it is never cooked!

It is derived from the sanskrit word chat, meaning to lick, and that is exactly what it does, unlike some bottled stuff that you get from the supermarket called ‘chutney’ which is cooked and over loaded with sugar and salt.

And now, of course, a small advertisement is about to appear on our screens, you know, the time when we usually go and make ourselves a cup of tea?

Nilgiri's Date and Tamarind chutney!!

(I must make an exception to the sort of cooked chutney being overloaded with sugar and salt. The date and tamarind chutney that we make at nilgiri’s uses jaggery, tamarind, spices and ‘black salt’ which is far healthier than any old sugars or food additives!!)

As for the pickle, it is never cooked if the fruit has a natural acid in it like mangoes or limes or lemons, or even gooseberries, and is preserved with the addition of pickling spices – such as fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, nigella seeds and black mustard seeds – along with salt, chilli powder and oil (mustard or gingelly).

raw pickles

The pickled veggies sold in the supermarket would make my grandfather turn in his grave!!

Ajoba was born on Deepavali day and would have been 115-years-old today!!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Please try the following recipes yourself at home: pudine ki chatni (mint chatni), date and tamarind chutney, mango pickle southern style and aam ka murabba.

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