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

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

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

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

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

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

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

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

adding salt to the rice flour and white lentil flour

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

add water [approximately 3-3 1/2 parts

mixing

mix or whisk

more mixing

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

pour into pot to let it ferment and rise!!

the mixture will ferment

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

remove cover to see it rise like a soufflé

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

keep ‘starter’ in the refrigerator covered in cling wrap

add water to prepare batter for dosai

mix, or as I say, ‘fold’

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

get ready for the act!!

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

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

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

pouring the mixture on top of hot plate/griddle plate

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

enlarging the circle

enlarging the dosai

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

clarified butter

adding oil to the butter stops it burning

drizzle butter in a circular pattern

gently spread butter with a spoon

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

the dosai will fold

roll the dosai

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

the second dosai is never perfect either!

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

the beautiful circles left by the cooked dosai

add potato filling

gently lever under the dosai, working around its perimeter

lever the dosai upwards gently

fold over filling

roll over

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

So, how do I know I am cooking 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!

When my son, Aniruddh, asked me casually,

“Dad, having read all your 54 blogs over the past year, I have a question. If I don’t have a recipe book on Indian food and I don’t have an Indian friend to call for help, and I can’t go through all your blogs to get a recipe, and I don’t want to cook what you have done in your blogs, how do I know what I am cooking is Indian and not any other cuisine?”

Honestly, I didn’t have an answer for him immediately, and I told him so, but I assured him I’d think about it for his questions raised other interesting issues, as these things tend to do.

And here are my thoughts.

My first response is that if my son has these sorts of questions there must be others out there who may also have similar thoughts, but don’t want to ask.

So, I continued thinking.

How can I make the seemingly straightforward question ‘how do I know I’m cooking Indian food?’ accessible for people out there?

Well, what I thought might be good would be to introduce people about the basics of Indian food. And when I say basics, I mean the real nitty-gritty stuff. Then I thought that the more adventurous and keen cooks could go on and refer to my cookbooks or my blogs if they felt inclined to try out some of the dishes. Obviously many of you know your onions (!) but tell me if you knew all the following (or took them so much for granted you didn’t even notice them!?) or if you have any of your own ideas that, for you, means you know you’re cooking Indian food.

So, my take on it is this. You know you are cooking Indian when you:

1. Heat the oil until it is hot and about to start smoking before crackling whole spices.

crackling spices

It’s not so much the using of whole spices that makes this process quintessentially Indian, though of course it helps, but it’s the heating of the poly-unsaturated oil that is intrinsic. Cooking the spices this way creates a spice flavoured infusion which will then permeate through the protein (whatever meat it is you are using and even paneer) to give that extra ‘oomph’. It also helps break the protein down in the body for easy digestion. The smoked oil also gets a chance to rise to the top. You can then either leave it to preserve the dish or skim the oil off before serving. We call this first step baghar!

2. Add sliced, or chopped, onions followed by iodised cooking salt. (The salt prevents the onions from sticking to the pan and ultimately stops them from burning; the iodine in the salt is ‘brain food’.)

3. Cook the onions until the sugar is released which is also known as caramelisation. You cook your onions until they are light golden for white meat and cook them until golden for red meat. (Cooking the onions for longer ensures a brighter coloured sauce and it also helps preserve the quality of the dish. We call this bhunao.)

caramelised onions

4. You add the ground ginger, or ground garlic, one at a time and wait until each has caramelised before adding the next – this helps in building the flavour of the dish. Remember, cooking Indian food is like creating a building – it’s layer upon layer. This layering of flavours gives the dish its own identity.

adding ginger

5. You sear the red meat before you add the (uncooked) ground spices. (This keeps the meat moist and adds to the bright colour of the dish.) We also call this also bhunao. You skip this step if you’re cooking white meat.

6. As with our garlic and ginger, when you add the dry ground spices  you do so one at a time.  My rule of thumb is you add first the dry ground chilli (as a general rule I add the chilli first as it takes a little longer to cook and it also brings out the bright red colour in the oil which we call rogan); this is followed by turmeric and then the ground coriander, or cumin. At every stage you cook the first spice and wait till the oil comes to the surface before adding the next spice. Turmeric is added to help bring out the colours and it also acts as an anti-oxidant.

7. Well, in my Indian cooking I now add an acidic substance to the dish. It could be tomatoes, or yoghurt, or a combination of both. You may also add tamarind water here along with the tomatoes, or yoghurt.

adding tomatoes for acidity

8. If you’re cooking with white meat you add it now and fold rather than stir. Your slow cooking starts now.

9. You now cover your pot and place it in a fan forced oven, or a hot plate, with a temperature of around 140-160 C – for about 30 minutes for white meat and 1 hour and 10 minutes for red meat.

10. You serve the dish sprinkled with lemon juice.

“That was the easy bit, son.” I say to Aniruddh when he comes to check on my progress.

My previous points are an established way to cook Indian food but let’s dig further.

Let’s now tackle the ‘not so easy’ part.

“Which is?” my son asks.

“Well,” I reply smiling, “which is, you know you are really cooking Indian when. . .”

1. You use your fingers as measures, and not spoons or measuring scales for a balanced meal. (Each finger represents one of the Five Senses. G-d gave us five fingers, and yes, the thumb is also a finger. Each finger represents a sense and each sense represents an element. The sense of smell is the element of earth (bhoomi), the sense of touch is the element of air (vayu), the sense of taste is the element of water (jal), the sense of sound is the element of ether (akash) and finally, the most important sense is the element of vision (agni).

Using all the senses gives a sense of satisfaction and that in turn gives a ‘balance’ to the meal. And as I pick up my ground ginger with my fingers I sniff it and say to Aniruddh, “If you can’t touch the food you cook how can you even think of eating it, son!!”

2. Well, let’s keep talking about the senses and elements as this is so integral to Indian cooking, our way of life, our philosophy. It’s all so intricately tied together. None of it is separated into neat little compartments. It all flows and meanders into one another. Anyway, remember that Indian food revolves around three fundamentals which are first, that every dish must have salt (we cook our food with salt and notice that you will never see a salt shaker on a dining room  table in an Indian restaurant or home). Cooking food with salt helps it pass through the fibres of the protein, or whatever vegetable it is you are cooking with, which in turn helps in preserving the dish, like a pickle. So, no salt, no pickle!! We call this uppu, or namak, or salt.

3. My second fundamental is that every Indian dish must have chilli. I know the chilli is not native to India but before the white man brought it to this land we only used pepper. We call it mirch. Now it is also known as kali mirch, lal mirch, sufaed mirch or hari mirch which represents a mix of the pepper and the chilli togetherYou may use either pepper, or chilli, or a combination of both, which is what we do in nilgiri’s. we call this kaaram or mirchi or chilli

chillis

4. My third fundamental point is please, don’t forget to add the souring agent which I mentioned above. We call the souring agent puli or khatas.

a souring agent ~ yoghurt

5. We add spices to complement a dish and not to dominate it. Yes!! And so many of you think you need to ‘sweat’ or ‘endure’ a hot meal or drink a jug of water to help you eat our food. No!! It’s not the case.

6. Ah ha. One of my favourites. You are talking to yourself as you cook, just like when you play that wonderful Indian game called shatranj [chess]. Indian food is about making a move with a definite purpose, just like it is in chess. Don’t add [move] if there is no purpose!!

7. You don’t call it a ‘mild’ or a ‘medium’ or a ‘hot’ dish as there are no ‘heat’ measuring scales when cooking! Just take it as it comes. It will not kill you, if anything, it might just help you live longer by increasing your metabolism and also help break down the carbs!!

8. And last, but by no means least, son, you are cooking Indian when you don’t cook with ‘curry’ powder. This just doesn’t exist!! It comes from. . . Well, I’ll leave you to find out where curry powder came from and who invented it whilst inhabiting our land!!

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!

Is it going to be Keralan or Mangalorean or Goan fish? . . . Let’s find out!! Part 2 of my garam masala series.

In my 22 years of running a restaurant in Australia, I have not seen so much anxiety and curiosity in my kitchen as I saw last Sunday, just a day before John (well, we all know who John is by now, he’s the man who puts visual life into my blogs) and I were to photograph a fish dish.

As it was fish, the focus of the debate centred around whether I was going to make a Keralan fish dish. One chef was convinced of it.

“No!” another chef immediately interjected, “he’s going to make his favourite Goan fish dish.”

“Never,” said another, taking both chefs by the shoulders and leaning against them both, “chef Joshi (that’s what they call me in my kitchen) will make a Mangalorean fish dish and he’s going to use a blue swimmer crab!!” and he winked at me knowingly and said, “isn’t that so, chef?”

Well, I like to do things my way as I’m sure my chefs know by now.

So guys, this week I am making a Hyderabadi-style machchi ka saalan,  a fish dish that uses both tamarind and tomatoes. How’s that?!!

I learnt this dish from chef Chaman Lal at the Banjara hotel in Hyderabad way back in 1980, it’s such an amazing dish that uses a river or a lake fish rather than a saltwater fish.

For this recipe I am using barramundi.

Remember in Hyderabadi food turmeric is used in very small quantities , just to make a dish look bright and yes we use both tamarind and tomatoes (a blend of south and north!)

STEP 1 – Plate your seafood GARAM MASALA that we made last week and stored in our glass jar, remember?!!

Place the seafood garam masala mix, that you made last week, on a plate – there’s no need to pan fry the spices because they will be cooked with the rest of the ingredients (roasting them and adding them to the cooking process would overcook them making them go bitter) . . . If committed, use a pestle and mortar – I prefer an electric spice grinder!

Grind the spices

Break up the chillies and place in the grinder. Do the same for the cinnamon sticks.

Add the rest of the spices. . .

Add the rest of the spice mix.

(Try and keep the grinder dry at all times!). For this recipe you will be using 2 tablespoons of the seafood garam masala (any left over should be stored in a clean, glass jar in a dry place).

grind for about 10 seconds.

the spice mix should be slightly coarser than sand . . .

it should be like ground coffee beans!!

STEP 2 – Prepare your garlic, ginger and chilli pastes. Don’t be put off by doing this, it doesn’t take long at all and the taste is definitely worth it!

You will need 1 tablespoon garlic paste

For the garlic paste, if you grind the cloves in oil it keeps the garlic ‘fresh’ for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

peeled garlic cloves

add the peeled garlic to the spice grinder

add the polyunsaturated vegetable oil (just enough to cover the garlic)

grind for about 20 seconds, or until a thick paste is formed

Making the ginger paste is just like making the garlic paste. (If you don’t scrape the skin off the tuber, the ginger will keep ‘fresh’ in the fridge for about 3 weeks.)

You will need 1 tablespoon ginger paste

unpeeled, washed, fresh ginger

slice the ginger into spice grinder

add polyunsaturated oil to the sliced ginger (just enough to cover it).

grind the ginger and oil, for about 20 seconds, until it forms a paste

Again, to make the green chilli paste (with the seeds retained, of course!) grind with oil and it will keep in the fridge for about 7 days.

You will need 1 tablespoon green chilli paste

fresh green chillis sliced in half

break up the chillies into 1-inch pieces and place in the spice grinder

add the polyunsaturated vegetable oil

grind for 10 seconds, or until a smooth paste is formed

If you snap-fry the kari leaves they will keep ‘fresh’ in the refrigerator for a few weeks. However, for this recipe try and use freshly fried kari leaves.

You will need 15 snap-fried kari (curry) leaves

To snap-fry:

use fresh kari leaves

add vegetable oil to a hot frying pan and heat the vegetable oil until it starts smoking

pour hot oil on kari leaves

drain oil using sieve

final result

Now that all your pastes are ready, let’s get on with our fish dish machchi ka saalan

cooking ingredients - lay out all your ingredients to cook the fish starting in a clockwise direction from the 12 o’clock position staring with: 2 tablespoons polyunsaturated vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, 2 cups chopped oinions, 11/2 teaspoons salt, garlic paste, ginger paste, green chilli paste, seafood garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 cups chopped tomatoes with the seeds and skin left on, 2 cups coconut cream, 1 teaspoon tamarind paste, snap-fried kari leaves and 1 kg barramundi

to serve: 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 chopped coriander leaves

1 kg barramundi fish - 3 inch squares about 2/3 inch thick

1 kilogram barramundi chopped into 3-inch squares (about 2/3-inch thick)

onions finely chopped

2 cups finely chopped onions

tomatoes coarsely chopped

2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes with seed and skin left on

Now we’ve got our ingredients sorted, it’s time to start cooking. . .

heat two tablespoons of polyunsaturated oil into hot pan on moderate heat

Heat frying pan over moderate heat. Add 2 tablespoons polyunsaturated vegetable oil to pan and allow to smoke.

when oil is hot, add fenugreek seeds

Add 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds and let crackle.

sizzling, some fenugreek seeds will pop (this is when the skin separates from the seeds!)

Add 2 cups chopped onions. And a hint! If you add the onions a little at a time this stops the oil cooling and the onions will cook better!

add onions a little at a time to stop oil cooling

Then add the salt. Fold the onions and cook.

add salt to onions to decrease cooking time and caramelise onions evenly

Keep cooking the onions until mildly caramelised.

onions will start to brown

Add 1 tablespoon garlic paste when the onions are mildly caramelised (light-golden).

when onion is a light-golden colour, add 1 tablespoon garlic paste and fold

Fold in garlic paste and cook till lightly caramelised.

folding in garlic paste and cook till lightly caramelised

Add 1 tablespoon ginger paste to the pan.

add ginger paste to the pan and fold

Fold in the ginger paste and continue cooking.

folding in ginger paste

Then add 1 tablespoon green chilli paste.

add green chilli paste to the pan

Fold in the chilli paste and cook.

fold in the chilli paste

Now add 2 tablespoons seafood garam masala and fold in with the onion mixtures and cook until fragrant.

add garam masala and fold in

Add 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric to the pan.

add ground turmeric

Fold and cook the ground turmeric.

folding the ground turmeric

Then add 2 cups chopped tomatoes.

adding chopped tomatoes

Fold the tomatoes and cook.

folding in the tomatoes

Continue cooking the tomatoes until they are soft.

cook until tomato skin easily separates when squeezed between your thumb and forefinger

Add 2 cups coconut cream and fold.

add coconut cream and fold

Keep folding the coconut cream, ensuring the cream does not come to the boil or else it might split.

fold in coconut cream, keep over moderate heat or else cream will separate

Add 1 teaspoon tamarind paste and fold.

adding tamarind concentrate/paste

keep folding until bubbles appear

Keep folding the tamarind paste until bubbles appear.

place fish evenly onto sauce, minimising any overlap

Add the chopped fish to the pan, ensuring no pieces overlap (so that each piece cooks evenly).

cover fish with paste using spoon

Cover each piece with the sauce.

cover pan with lid reduce heat to low

Cover frying pan with a lid and reduce heat to low.

cook with lid on for 10 minutes

Continue cooking, with lid on, for 10 minutes.

when you take off the lid, the sauce will have thickened

Remove lid and the sauce will have thickened.

adding the pan-fried kari leaves

Place the snap-fried kari (curry) leaves on top of the fish and let fish slow cook for a few minutes.

adding lemon juice

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

add chopped coriander and fold

Add 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves and fold gently.

serve with steamed rice and enjoy!

Next week we will use garam masala for vegetables. Hope to see you then!!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Oh, it would be great if you could let us know where you are reading from.

Six basic spice mixes – you may call them “garam masala”. . .Part 1 of my garam masala series.

 The above image shows the six garam masala spice mixes. From L to R top row we have the spice mixes for: seafood, vegetarian, poultry; from L to R [bottom row] for: red meat, nilgiri’s biryani mix, kebabs

How do you simplify a complex cuisine which has at least a billion different interpretations, all of them equally correct in their own way?

One way is to call it a ‘curry’ and just leave it at that!

But that is not the point and honestly does not do any justice to the millions of khansaamas, bawarchis, dastarkhwans, aka chefs, who have devoted their lives trying to tell the world that this is an intricate cuisine and not just ’a bit of this and a bit of that.’

So, let’s get down to one of the basics of any dish.

What is it? The type of pan used? Cast iron or copper, or is it the oil that should be used? Or the sort of bread that should accompany a dish?

No folks, none of these is the basics of a dish that I want to discuss [though hold your breath because in the following year I will be touching on some of these]!

But for now I want to direct my attention to spice mixes. This week I want to show you how to make, step-by-step, six spice mixes that we use in my kitchen at nilgiri’s.

Next week I’ll be using one of the spice mixes and over the next SIX weeks I’ll be be using all six spice mixes that I am explaining today. If you want to make the recipes in the coming weeks that use these spice mixes, get started and make all six now – since  they’re spices, they won’t ‘go off’, in fact, the more they’re left to ‘talk’ to each other in the jar, the more infused and enthused they’ll become! But  you must store your spice mixes in airtight glass jars that are kept away from direct heat, sunlight, or any moisture. If you get this right your spice mixes will be perfect for months.

Okay, so let’s start. You’ll need whole spices and six separate airtight glass jars and once you’ve got that, you’re sorted (of course, you can make one, or two, or all, or none of the spice mixes!). The choice is yours.

Follow my method of adding each spice as I have. Want to know why? I believe it is a good habit to add one ingredient at a time even if it is not being cooked as in this case.(When cooking it is important to add the biggest spice first followed by the next  in size and so on…. this gives the biggest spice a longer time to cook and bring out the volatile oils, you know what I mean!!!)

Anyway, the first garam masala mix that we’re setting up is for seafood.

I call this one, guess what? Seafood GM, not too romantic I know, but it does its job and is a sensible name.

Let’s begin.

SPICE MIX 1 ~ GARAM MASALA FOR SEAFOOD

Starting clockwise you have:  1 cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 3 dried red chillies and 2 teaspoons fennel seeds.

Add the cinnamon stick to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

The cloves

Then the black peppercorns

Then the dried red chillies

And finally, the fennel seeds

Here is your spice mix for seafood ready to be stored in its glass jar

Place spices in the glass jar

SPICE MIX 2 ~Vegetarian garam masala

As its name implies, this is great for flavouring vegetarian dishes, including dishes made out of paneer, or cottage cheese, or fresh cheese…I like to think of it as my “vegetarian garam masala”. You can call yours what you want but trust me, it’ll taste superb.


Starting clockwise we have:  2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 bay leaves and 3 dried red chillies.


First of all add the coriander seeds to your bowl

Then add the cumin seeds

The bayleaves

And finally, add your dried red chillies


Now store all your whole spices in an airtight glass jar

And as I mentioned before, keep your spices away from direct heat, light and moisture

SPICE MIX 3 ~Poultry Garam Masala

Poultry garam masala is as follows: 1 cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, 1 1/2 teaspoons cloves, 3 star anise, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons mace blade.

Add the cinnamon stick to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

And the cloves

The star anise

The fennel seeds

And finally, the mace

Your poultry garam masala is now ready for storing in its glass jar

Putting the poultry spices into the glass jar

Voila! All ready for storage.

SPICE MIX 4 ~ Garam masala for red meat

Starting clockwise: 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 nutmeg and 2 teaspoons black peppercorns.

Take the cinnamon sticks and place in your bowl

Then the cardamoms

The cloves

The nutmeg

Yes, you’ll have to grate your nutmeg!

But don’t grate it all, about a 1/2 a nutmeg should do

Then add the peppercorns

And your red meat garam masala is ready for storing in your glass jar

The final product for red meat garam masala!

SPICE MIX 5 ~Biriyani mix (nilgiri’s garam masala)

From clockwise: 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, 4 black cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cloves, 1 nutmeg, 3 spears mace, 4 bayleaves,  2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds and 1 teaspoon saffron threads.

Take the two cinnamon sticks and place in your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

Then add the black cardamom

Then add the cloves

Add the nutmeg

And the mace spears or blades

The bay leaves

The black peppercorns

The fennel seeds

And finally, the saffron threads

Place all spices  into the glass jar,except the saffron. Place the saffron in a separate container as this will be soaked in milk when we use it for our recipe for the biryani!!!

And your biryani garam masala is ready for storage

SPICE MIX 6 ~ Kebab Mix

Starting from clockwise:  2 cinnamon sticks, 12- 15 cardamom pods, 2 teaspoons cloves, 3 mace spears, 5 dried red chillies, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon saffron threads.

Add the cinnamon sticks to your bowl

Then add the cardamom pods

Then the cloves

Then add the mace spears or blades

And the dried red chillies

The coriander seeds

The bay leaves

And finally, the saffron threads

Here is your melange of kebab garam masala without the saffron. Place saffron in a separate container.

Storing your spices in the ubiquitous glass jar

Ready to be stored. A visual feast!

Phew!!! Once done we will use each one of the above spice mixes to create a dish starting with the seafood spice mix next week.
My plan is to create a southern style fish with coconut.
Until then. . .

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

That was the year that was!

It’s the start of another new year, it’s the midst of the cricket season (but let’s not talk about that quite yet) and I’ve had some new thoughts regarding my blog which have come from comments left about the blogs, customer feedback and yours truly thinking!

So, this year, folks, in my Wednesday blogs I want to focus on the dishes, the spices, namely all the things that go into my cooking.

“What?” I hear you say, “You mean you haven’t been doing that already?”. Well, yes and no.

Take garam masala, for instance, which I’ve written about in a previous blog here.

My son, as a very young boy, thought that garam masala was a spice. Imagine! A spice like nutmeg that you grate called garam masala!

So in my blog next week, I will focus on making six garam masalas that go with different foods (chicken, fish and so on) including nilgiri’s own garam masala. There will be photos of each recipe step together with recipes for each gram masala. For those of you familiar with my recent weekly blogs there will be lots of  detail and  photos and for those of you not familiar, well, come give it a try!

Now, as we’re into the new year and reflect on our last one here’s my “The Best of 2011”.

It’s interesting to see what blogs get the most attention, and what get the least.

Is there any rhyme or reason to it?

I think that’s as hard to say as trying to predict a cricket score (we didn’t know Sachin would get out so early). Is it the topic, the weather (when it’s cold people stay inside), the time it’s sent (if you’re at home or at work and want to do something different)?

Well, whatever the reason I’m not a Google Analyst and I’m not going to do that here . . . but I will tell you about the favourites.

The simple, unassuming lentil, red kidney bean and chickpea were our outright favourite! That’s right folks!

red kidney beans

Would I have guessed this?

No way.

The simple dish was hit upon most times. I hope that you tried it. I hope that you soaked your pulses and added one ingredient after another whilst cooking. I guess not many of you have a tandoor to make this dish so I hope you followed the recipe alongside.

You didn’t see this blog? Don’t remember it? Well, here is the quintessential dal makhani blog.

I know that many mothers worry about their vegetarian teenage daughters (and their sons, but there are fewer vegetarians in this group) getting enough protein and I know that this dish is bung full of the stuff if served with rice or bread and with a side dish of palak (spinach) or paneer, well, you’re sorted! So perhaps that’s why it came in at number one?!

Spices came in at number two!

black pepper

So here it is if you want to refresh your memory or see if for the first time: When should I add whole spices and when should they be ground?

I’d written about when spices should be left whole and when ground. I know that many people find this issue confusing or don’t even know that you can use whole spices and grind your own given that you can buy convenient ground spices in jars from the supermarket . . . but don’t!!! Often these things are fine when you first open them but then turn to nothing more than coloured dust with no smell whatsoever.

Dry-fry your whole spices, grind them (in an electric spice grinder which is less romantic, I know, than a pestle and mortar but boy is it more convenient for me and my staff) and you will never want to buy pre-ground stuff ever again (with the exception, as you know, of turmeric as it’s like cement when whole and no one wants to grind diamond-like substances in their own home!).

My operatic paneer came in third which sort of didn’t surprise me.

palak paneer

Palak paneer – the ultimate opera on a plate.

This wonderful dish that seems so complicated can be made at home. People are amazed they can make cheese at home, so easily and in such a short time. I’m often told how they never imagined they’d be able to make their own paneer at home…..they often say that during my class they didn’t imagine they’d be watching me make paneer.

Andhra chicken pulao was fourth. Yes!!!

one of the star ingredients in Andhra chicken pulao!

It’s called andhra chicken pulao and not ‘curried rice’ for heaven’s sake.

Well, you know I’m trying to move away from Indian food being seen as nothing more than a curry in a damn’d hurry (which, for your information came in at number five!!) and this one topped that table at number four.

And last, but my no means least, the blog that got the most comments and was fifth in the list and which I’ve just mentioned above: This ain’t no damn curry in a hurry.

this ain't no curry in a hurry - the classic rogan josh

So, there you have it.

And as for me, I must say that my two favourite blogs would have to be the one on Vishwanath Apte, not so much for the dosai that he liked so much but for the fact that he was a true inspiration to me.

Vishwanath Apte

Who was Vishwanath Apte? A tribute to an inspirational Indian from down under.

My second would be the one on chutneys. Why?

nilgiri's chutneys

Is it because of the pickles and achars that can be served alongside my dishes? Is it because my ajoba used to make his own pickles?

Well, as for the dosai, let’s face it, it’s the person behind the dosai that made the blog so special to me as is the case for the chutneys!

making dosai

Chutneys, chatni, pickles, achars and my ajoba.

So, keep reading, cooking and sending in those comments and the best of 2012 [the year of the bear] to you all!

Every Indian loves to eat it but very few can make it!!

So, what do you think it is?

No, it is NOT butter chicken, it is NOT palak paneer, it is also NOT rogan josh and it certainly ISN’T vindaloo!!

It is the most artistic and yet simplest of dishes.

In the north of India it is called dossa, in the south they call it thosai, but I call it dosai!!

In 1990 I moved to Sydney from Melbourne.

Well Melbournians, I had to as the restaurant I worked for closed down and after a good two weeks of trying with no luck, I was asked to go north.

Sydney was not entirely different to Melbourne except that Sydney restaurateurs, unlike their Melbourne counterparts, always gave me hope, which helped me feel good but did not pay my bills!!

But, after a good four weeks on the run I finally got a job as a ‘dish washer’ in an Indian Restaurant in a suburb called Mosman!

This restaurant was owned by one Mr Ronnie, who was a food and beverage manager in a 5-star hotel during the day and ran this restaurant with his wife in the evening.

My job description was very clear, I was to wash all the crockery, cutlery and the pots and pans. Simple!

Although I had worked as a chef in India (actually, I had been an executive chef in the two years before leaving India), Ronnie did not trust my skills as a chef.

This was perfectly fine by me at that time as it meant less responsibility and, of course less, headaches!!

Who wants any headaches?!!

On the menu in Ronnie’s restaurant was a dish I had not come across before in Sydney, and believe you me, I had seen a lot of menus in Sydney as I had tried my luck in around 60 odd restaurants, or so, looking for a job.

It had been my favourite dish as a child, masala dosai!

So many Indians were living here in Sydney, there were so many Indian restaurants and not one was serving masala dosai. How could this be?

It was unbelievable!!

Ronnie’s restaurant, however, served masala dosai but it was not made in the restaurant, it came from his kitchen at home and was re-heated in a microwave and served to the customers!!

Never in my 10-year  short life as a chef had I seen anything like  this before.

I had learnt the art and craft of making masala dosai in Taj Residency, Bangalore from KK Shiva.

So, on a ‘not-so-busy’ day in Ronnie’s restaurant I called the chef, who was from Bangladesh, and showed him how to make this dish, from start to finish, just the way my friend KK Shiva had taught me years ago in the Taj Residency, Bangalore.

Ronnie’s wife saw me do this and I was promptly asked to move on.

That was the day I decided, if I was ever to run my own restaurant it would always have this dish on it even if the menu was from the North of India!

Masala dosai, I believe, is the national dish of India and is cherished by both the rich and the poor equally who stand shoulder to shoulder and have it made right in front of them, from the roadside stalls of Bandra (in Mumbai) to the restaurants  in Bannerghatta (in Bangalore)!!

At nilgiri’s I don’t care whether you’re a king or a pauper but I do care  to make fresh masala dosai  in our open kitchen so you can see for yourself that it is made fresh for you. If you want to try out this recipe at home please follow the recipe (all the quantities are shown in this recipe) and follow the pictures to make sure you’re getting things like consistency, and etc., right.

Good luck. As we all know, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs so don’t be put off if your batter doesn’t seem to work the first time or the second time!

Usually by your third attempt the dosai will be good.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it takes practise but you’ll enjoy eating the ‘rejects’ along the way.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

Can I also take this opportunity to wish you all the best for 2012 and I hope you have a Happy Christmas.

adding salt to the rice flour and white lentil flour

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

”]
mixing

mix or whisk

more mixing

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

pour into pot to let it ferment and rise!!

the mixture will ferment

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

remove cover to see it rise like a soufflé

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

keep ‘starter’ in the refrigerator covered in cling wrap

add water to prepare batter for dosai

mix, or as I say, ‘fold’

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

get ready for the act!!

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

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

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

pouring the mixture on top of hot plate/griddle plate

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

enlarging the circle

enlarging the dosai

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

clarified butter

adding oil to the butter stops it burning

drizzle butter in a circular pattern

gently spread butter with a spoon

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

the dosai will fold

roll the dosai

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

the second dosai is never perfect either!

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

the beautiful circles left by the cooked dosai

add potato filling

gently lever under the dosai, working around its perimeter

lever the dosai upwards gently

fold over filling

roll over

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

your wonderful dosai served at the table!

Remember Rahamatullah? . . .He taught me this dish, it’s an absolute beauty!!!

In 1988, just before I left the Taj Residency, Bangalore, to come to  Australia, I had the ‘privilege’ of cooking for the boss of the Kingfisher Group in Bangalore.

This guy is the ‘liquor Baron of India and probably owns half the liquor industry in the world.

Well anyway, Vijay Mallaya was on his way up, fast.

His star was shining brightly, and in this stellar brightness he had gone on an acquisition spree picking up pharmaceutical companies, bio-tech companies, aviation companies and he was on the look out for more. . .

Now, I had done a number of functions for this man over the past five years, but this event was special.

There were some very important people from the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, the USSR, as it was known back then, who also had interests in petroleum, horses and all things automobile!!

Mr Mallaya wanted to impress his guests and had asked for a unique menu, the kind that would make a sheikh “shake”.

So, the food being presented had to be none other than my favourite cuisine, Hyderabadi, of course!

We had paththar ka gosht, lukmi, followed by kachache gosht ki biryani, murgh zaafraani, dalcha, baghar-e-baingan, mirchi ka saalan and finally there was a dish called murgh kali mirch and much, much more besides.

Now, there are possibly 10 different ways of making murgh kali mirch and each state in the southern part of India makes its own version which has a different name depending on the region it’s made in.

For example, the Tamil Chettiars call it kozhi milagu chettinad, kozhi molavu varuval. . . but the Hyderabadis claim theirs to be the most authentic and superior to the rest.

Rahamatullah (remember him? I wrote about this chef in my blog Why add the damn-d nuts?), had come down to Bangalore, from Ooty, to learn how kitchens in the big hotels worked. He didn’t do this so that he could show-off on his CV, but being sent to watch an hotel kitchen in action was the corporate way of recognising his services to the company that he had served as a humble and honest servant for many years!

He was posted to all departments of the kitchen including the bakery, the butcher and the banquet kitchen with yours truly at the helm!!

For Mr Mallaya’s party, chefs from my banquet kitchen were assigned a dish each to cook and  Rahamatullah was given the murgh kali mirch.

After almost 23 years, this dish is still one of the most amazing dishes I have learnt to cook. It is simple yet very technical as it uses pepper, the king of spices, in three different ways in the same recipe.

The ingredients arranged before I cook

Adding buttermilk to the chicken

mixing the buttermilk and chicken

Adding oil or butter

adding pepper corns to the hot oil

Adding cassia

adding the cardamon

adding cloves

adding asafoetida

cook oil till aromatic 

Adding onions and curry leaf to the oil

folding the spices and onions

the leaves will become translucent and the onions start to caramalize

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 tomato

let the tomato cook till skin is soft

Add marinaded chicken

fold in chicken

cook chicken

crush curry leaves and add

add ground pepper

a generous sprinkling of cracked pepper

cover the pot and simmer till chicken is cooked

add pepper corns to mortar

Add garlic flakes to mortar

Crush leaves and add to mortar

add coriander leaves

crush ingredients with pestle working under towel to stop mess, and smile please!!

Add crushed peper etc to pot, keep smiling !!

sprinkle chopped coriander before serving

close up

It's ready

plate the meal on a banana leaf with steamed rice

First it is used whole to create an infusion in the hot oil; second it’s crushed, or cracked; and third it’s as ground with garlic and curry leaves to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish!!

Anyway, at the outdoor event held at the Kingfisher House we do our job with army-like, but friendly!, efficiency, serving the guests and their partners.

Plenty of food and grog is being served. Conversation is continual.

Desserts are then served, followed by cognac and coffee.

It’s late and time for us to leave when I am summoned to the chambers of Mr Mallaya.

Never before in my five years of serving this man had I ever been into the ‘private chambers’, so why today, I ask myself as I leave the kitchens. Am I going to be. . .?

So, I knock at the large doors, enter and no sooner have I stepped into the room than I hear a voice, “Ajoy,” says the man, exhaling thick smoke from his Havana cigar so that at first his face is hard to see, “I believe you are leaving the Taj and going to Australia.” It’s more a statement than a question but I reply all the same, “Yes Sir, that is right. I finish here in a few weeks.”

“Well,” he says, rolling the thick cigar between his fingers, “If you ever change your mind, come and join me as a corporate chef for the Kingfisher group……”

And as he smiles at me and takes one more puff, I smile in return but say, “Thanks for the offer, Mr Mallaya, I am honoured but I am off down under.”

And he nodded his head slowly as I said this, watching me carefully.

So, from down under in Sydney, here is Rahamat’s murgh kali mirch recipe if you want to try it out for yourself.

It’s a straightforward recipe, just remember those three styles of peppercorns and rejoice in the versatility of the humble peppercorn!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

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