RSS Feed

Tag Archives: cinnamon

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!!!

The many faces of cocos nucifera. . .

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

What in the world is cocos nucifera?!!!

Simply put, this is the nut with a ‘smiling face’ as the Portuguese call it.

I call it coconut.

Indians call it nariyal, narall, thengai or caai . . . depending on who you talk to.

It is the most versatile vegetable, fruit, nut . . . and much more!

My association with this ‘smiling faced’ nut started in Bangalore as a ‘punishment’ when my chef asked me to shell shrimps, only 15 kgs of the things.

Now, shrimps in India are miniature prawns that do not grow beyond 2 inches in length.

To shell them is a highly skilled job and I was not trained to do this.

I was trained to become a ‘chef ’, not a bl..dy masalchi, or a helper, or so I thought. However, I could not escape, I HAD to do it.

So, this is what I did . . . for every four prawns that I shelled, two unshelled prawns went into the bin!!

Who would notice if I discarded just a few?

After nearly 3 hours of  ‘shelling’ I handed over my labour to Chef Alex who promptly thanked me for doing the work and I was ready to go home.

Just as I was about to leave the time office at the Taj Residency, I heard a familiar, but stern, voice call me on from behind, it was Chef Alex himself.

What followed was not exactly pleasant but it was one of the most important lessons of my cooking life which basically boiled down to: can’t shell?, then, will break coconuts!!!

If you can’t do the hard yards now, son, you will never get to the top!!

For the next four weeks I was asked to break coconuts, by hand.

I had to grate them and squeeze the extract out of nearly 20 of them so that they could be turned into a Kerala style ishtew to accompany appams, or pancakes.

Besides this, I was also asked to break from anywhere between 10 and 25 coconuts for the banquet kitchen if there was a function on!

So, whilst breaking the smiling faces was far from easy work, working with Unnikrishnan, Jose and KK Shiva, three of the best chefs from the south, taught me not just how to cook with the coconut but also how to appreciate this wonderful nut.

Indians, especially from the coastal regions, use every part of this plant. It is used in every aspect of their life, they drink the water of the young coconut, eat the ‘meat’ of it, use the extract of it for making sauces, ferment it and make ‘vinegar’, use the husk for handicrafts, cut and clean the shell to make kitchen utensils, and much, much more!!

Then there are the medicinal benefits, too many to name in this blog so that can wait for another time, or another blog!!

We Indians even worship this fruit!  There is a festival named after it called Narayali Poornima which is celebrated in the state of Maharashtra to mark the end of the monsoon period!!

Phew!!!

Now it’s time to do a recipe using the ‘smiling’ nut!! Please click coconut vegetable ishtew recipe for a one-page recipe of this dish.

ingredients clockwise starting in the 2 o'clock position: coconut oil, chopped red onions, sliced green chillis,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. Gotta try and please all the people all the time, don’t we?!

Next week we will travel to the state of Karnataka on the west coast for more coconut cooking, more techniques and maybe even a starter. . .

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!!!

 

Ajoy meets Mr Karir

Posted on

“Mrs Joshi”, the tall Sikh colleague of my father said to my mother, “In order for me to make you a beautiful goat dish I want you to go to the markets and buy me this list of ingredients”. Mr Karir (or Uncle as we called him) was the most organised cook I’d ever seen. In his neat script he’d written a list of what he wanted my mum to buy so that he could make our family a goat rogan josh which was a specialty from his region of India, Kashmir.

goat rogan josh dish

goat rogan josh

The spice used in this dish was garam masala. What was this exotic-sounding spice? Was it one spice or made up of many? As a young boy in 1971 this spice wasn’t in our household. We ate a mostly vegetarian diet, sometimes supplemented with chicken, but our mouths watered at the sound of Uncle’s goat rogan josh and we awaited eagerly for mum to return with all his items, and this unknown spice. She wasn’t to return until she’d bought them all, no more and no less.

Without knowing it at that time, the presence of this tall man in our household was to have a profound effect on me. When mum returned later that morning, Uncle laid out all the spices and my sister and I eyed one another and watched him as we realised that garam masala wasn’t one spice but seemed to be a mixture of many spices we already knew.

My sister ran outside to play with friends but I stayed watching, fascinated by his orderliness and the neat pile of spices he’d arranged in preparation to be ground. Today I use an electric spice grinder, not as romantic, but far better and quicker, particularly in a restaurant, but I still carry with me Uncle’s orderliness in laying out the ingredients beforehand. He then covered the ground spices, “So they don’t oxidise and lose flavour.”

This was the beginning of my understanding of exactly what different spices were and how we use them.

“Three Cs”, Uncle continued as he started peeling and slicing the onions mum had bought, ”A basic garam masala should have the three Cs: cardamom, cassia [the bark of a bay tree] and cloves [or cinnamon if you can’t get cassia]….and because it’s red meat, nutmeg is essential.” My mum had returned with six nutmegs wrapped in newspaper, as was common at that time. In India we don’t list the exact quantities, we just cook. Uncle hadn’t told my mum that one nutmeg would be more than enough for this dish and that six would last us a good while.

Cinnamon sticks

The goat, which was neither too young nor too old, needed to be tenderised and Uncle literally massaged his hand-ground spices mixed with yoghurt into the goat thoroughly.

He sliced and salted the onions so that when put on the flame they wouldn’t burn.

More items on my mum’s shopping list were black cardamoms, cinnamon and Indian bay-leaf known in Urdu as Tez pat, essential for his region’s rogan josh.

Uncle cooked the onions till they were caramelised, he then removed them from the heat and added his ground ginger and garlic. He also used something called Kashmiri chilli, known more for its colour than its pungency which is why it’s used, the hallmark of a real Kashmiri rogan josh.

“Ajoy”, Uncle looked at me as I watched the sauce bubbling slowly, “a real rogan josh has red oil floating on top.” Rogan is Urdu for ‘red oil’ and josh means ‘heat’. He used sesame oil (gingelly). Today many of us don’t understand the importance of oil and think it’ll be greasy or fattening but for Uncle that oil would preserve the dish like a pickle and he said that the oil must float on top.

“a real rogan josh has red oil floating on top.”

As we all sat round the table, Uncle served his meal. He plunged mum’s battered ladle into the bottom of the pot to get the meat beneath the oil. The sauce wasn’t thick, but thin as is typical in the Kashmiri region where they are predominantly rice eaters.

Savouring that particular rogan josh way back in the Seventies, I didn’t know it then but Uncle was to have a profound impact on me as a cook. As I created my own garam masala using nine spices, I can still picture Uncle’s handwriting on that flimsy piece of paper he handed to my mum. It was from this piece of paper, from watching his ordered preparation of ingredients, his passion, knowledge and respect for food that has influenced me to this day.

I don’t know what happened to Uncle, I know that one day I’d like to take one of my jars to him and let him smell it, taste it and see how it can be married with red meat, white or fish….

nilgiri's nine-spice garam masala

Click nilgiri’s recipes to vist our website’s recipe page to which new recipes are added weekly.

%d bloggers like this: