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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!!

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!!!

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!

Nilgiri’s, Ganesha and a man called Thyagarajan

a clay Ganesha made somewhere in Sydney and a young 'fellow' in bronze

In 2003 nilgiri’s moved into its new, and current, premises.

This was the culmination of a dream that started in 1988 when I first came to this country.

My dream was to have an Indian restaurant, the kind that only exists in a dream . . . to have an open kitchen in the main dining room, to have five private rooms that served food from the five regions of India which also represent the fundamental five pillars of creation (jal [water], agni [fire], bhoomi [earth], vayu [air], and akash [space]), to have a small tiffin room that served thalis from different parts of the country and last, but not least, to do a take-home/home delivery wherein the guests could swing by and pick up their food or have it delivered just in time for dinner, all piping hot, of course!

This delivery service would be like the dabba service of Mumbai, with a little polish, and a van rather than a bicycle.

Ajoy, the Harbour dabawalla, delivering lunch to Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore!

This ‘black and white’ dream also had a few moments of vivid technicolour in it. I also wanted to have a cooking school where participants could travel to my ‘India’ through my food and also learn a thing or two about the different cuisines!

Very ambitious, but as someone rightly said, “Unless you aim for the stars you can’t go any higher!!”

So, here I was 15 years later living my dream . . . or so I thought.

The first month after the move was great. Everything was going according to the Business Plan that we had so meticulously put in place and things were looking up!

Then everything started to fall apart . . . and by the end of January 2004 we were looking to close the place down a mere three months after having first opened it. (I will do a blog on what I think went wrong, and how we brought it back to life, another time.)

In the back office at nilgiri’s, as we started to ‘relieve’ our staff (we could not afford to keep them anymore) both in the front of house and the kitchen, we were left with just eight staff members (having started with nearly 24!) to pick up the crumbs and see if we could salvage something out of this ambitious project which had all our money locked into it.

The banks and the financial institutions refused to lend us any money. The project was seen as high risk and there were no guarantees that we could survive the cut-throat competition of other establishments in Sydney selling so-called “CURRIES”!!

After much discussion Meera and I finally decided to speak to a man called S. Thyagarajan.

S. Thyagarajan

This man lives in Bangalore, in a place called Hennur Banaswadi. Thyagarajan is a civil engineer from Bangalore University and in the 60’s he was posted to Sikkim as a commanding officer with the Indian Army.

Thyagarajan’s life was a dream life! He had his work and his family – his wife and two young kids, a boy and a girl. Life was great, well, almost.

In 1984 all his ambitions were shattered when his wife, Indira was unwell. He brought her back to Bangalore for a check-up during the school summer holidays.

A simple operation was required that would take half an hour, at the most, and Indira would be ready to go back home to join in the post-operative family celebrations.

But the doctor, and someone ‘upstairs’, had other plans. The so-called straightforward operation went completely wrong and Indira started bleeding internally.

Thyagarajan and the kids, who were waiting outside to take their mum home for the celebrations, were now frantically trying to look for help. Indira passed away at the hospital.

Thyagarajan and the kids were devastated, as you can imagine.

Life had taken a complete downward turn.

Raja, as he is called, coped with this devastating event by starting a collection of Ganeshas, the elephant god.

two Ganeshas: the big fella made by an Australian artist and the little one is my son's favourite

Starting the collection did not bring his beloved wife back but it gave him the energy to live life and to look after his two kids.

Also, Indira was very good at Batik painting and had painted a few Ganeshas – and so collecting Ganeshas gave him the feeling of being close to his wife.

Today, Raja is close to 77 and though the void left behind by his wife’s untimely death can never be filled, collecting Ganeshas has helped him move on.

Until recently he was the single largest collector of Ganeshas, having featured in numerous magazines and media publications. The BBC has also featured him because of his collection!

'ganapati', 1st of the 108 in Nilgiris restaurant!!

So, back in 2004 when Meera and I spoke to Raja about the demise of our business, his advice was to make a fresh start.

He also recommended starting with collecting a Ganesha. He advised us that this might give us a focus and a renewed energy to fight back.

a hand-painted wooden Ganesha

When you are down and out, and there is no hope, any advice is like a pearl of wisdom.

So, this pearl came from a man who had been through a lot and we trusted him implicitly.

With our last $4000 in the bank, and no hope of survival, we started our hunt for a very unique Ganesha.

We looked all over Sydney, found some unique ones, some really beautiful ones and some were even from Sikkim depicted in a tantric form (an unusual form of ganesha with ‘consorts’!).


We also found one that was made by an Australian artist.

It was’t until we saw this plump fellow sitting in the window of a shop in Willoughby, of all places, that we knew this was the one!

our coveted Ganesha! we call him 'Pitambara'!

It was a unique form of Ganesha sitting on top of a lion, possibly Narasimha.

But without even looking at each other we both knew immediately we wanted this particular one!

We went into the shop and were stunned! How were we supposed to start our collection which left us with, literally, only half our savings?You see, the asking price was a whopping $2000!!

Even bargaining didn’t work, who would believe our sob-story anyway?, so we decided to get another piece made of bronze.

This bronze piece was good but it was no substitute for that piece!

'bal' Ganesh, the young one. My son's favourite!

However, we managed to hold onto the business for another month and we also decided to buy another bronze piece to keep us going; but we still visualised the other Ganesha and wished we could somehow obtain it, but we didn’t quite know how.

It was’t until one day in March 2004, on our way through Alexandria as I was parking my car to enter a clothing warehouse, that Meera spotted the Ganesha that had eluded us for nearly two whole months.

He was placed on top of a wooden box just waiting to be picked up by someone.

The asking price?


I paid the amount, there and then, and brought him straight to my restaurant.

He already had a spot at the top of the stairs. Perfect!

It was at this stage we realised that if we were focused and channelled our energies we could even get out of the mess we were in.

So, once the spiritual side of the brain was assuaged we started to focus on the professional side.


It took us a good five years to get out of the mess, but we are now back with a vengeance!!

Raja still lives in Bangalore.

Actually, he is my father-in-law and he is a great inspiration to people around him as his uplifting and wise philosophy and his “never say die” and ”never say never” outlook is so engaging!!

father and son!! shiva and ganesha!!

As for nilgiri’s and Ganesha, the bond is still very strong and we get one Ganesha every month, to remind us that unless there is a spiritual belief there can be no success!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Eggplant is one of Raja’s favourite vegetables. Please try one, or both, of these eggplant recipes, one stuffed with dry-roasted spices, the other a simple, yet delicious, coconut and eggplant dish.

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